Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, It’s July!

July 01, 2019

January through June of 2019 have to have been the quickest six months of my life. And experience tells me that the next six months of the year won’t be any more leisurely if left to their own devices. How can I slow down time—or at least make it feel slower?

Summertime is the perfect time to do that, because generally the pace of life tends to slow down on its own. Many people schedule vacations, kids are out of school, and most of us make an effort to chill a little more during the hot months.

What it boils down to for me is becoming more mindful of the quality, pace, and texture of my days.



Here are a three simple ways to slow down and become more mindful that I swear I’m going to try. Want to join me?

Build in breaks. Use a timer if necessary. After a work session, schedule at least a 15-minute break, to stretch, drink a glass of water, walk around the house or office, look outside at blooming nature, and so on. I'm TERRIBLE at this. I tend to rush from one project to the next without taking a few minutes to reset and suddenly it’s 5 p.m. (And it has to be a break. No sorting the mail (or reading emails), tidying up the kitchen, or pretending that chores are a break. They are NOT.)

Create rituals throughout the day. First thing in the morning, take your coffee outside to see what’s going on in the yard, sit in meditation for 10 minutes and do a few yoga poses, or climb back in bed to write in a journal and read something inspirational. At lunchtime, pause to appreciate the smell and appearance of your food before eating, take a short walk afterwards. At bedtime, jot down three good things that happened to you today, read a poem, or practice relaxation exercises in bed. Rituals can help slow us down, as long as we don’t let them become mindless ruts

Revise the to-do list. Take at least one thing off it, and when you’re done with your list, you're done. Go put your feet up and read a book. Or whatever your favorite thing happens to be.

I’ve written about these things before, and tried them all with varying degrees of success, and it’s time to get back into practice. Do I control my life, or does it control me? Do I want to look back in December and wonder where the last six months went? No, I do not.

What are your tips and tricks for slowing down and being more mindful? Please share in the comments—I’m convinced we could all use some help in this area.

More posts about mindfulness and slowing down:

Also, check out the Action for Happiness July calendar. Today’s prompt: Make a list of things you’re looking forward to. I love it!


Time Renews Itself

March 08, 2019

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash
“Most of us take for granted that time flies, meaning that it passes too quickly. But in the mindful state, time doesn't really pass at all. There is only a single instant of time that keeps renewing itself over and over with infinite variety.”
—Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life

Hand Wash Cold

I Am This Life

March 16, 2016

“When I grow weary of what’s undone or anxious about what’s to come, I remind myself that I am not the maker or the order taker in this life. I am this life, and it is unfinished. Even when it is finished it will be unfinished. And so I take my sweet time. Time is savored when you take it by the hand.”
 —Karen Maezen Miller, Hand Wash Cold


What Will You Do With the Gift of a Day?

February 29, 2016

Today is a gift. An extra day in the course of your year, a day that 2015 didn’t have, and 2017 won’t have. It sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? If you’re like me, you’d be thrilled to have someone hand you an extra 24 hours.

February 29, or Leap Day, is humanity’s way of fixing the discrepancy between the calendar year and the solar year (the time it takes Earth to complete its orbit of the Sun)—the solar year is nearly six hours longer than the 365 days of our calendar. (Click here if you want to know more about how Leap Day is calculated). 

But back to that extra day. When I think about what I’d do with an extra day, I almost always picture myself cocooning at home, reading, drinking tea or coffee (or both), hiding away from the world. I seldom picture myself getting out of my house, exploring someplace new, etc. Perhaps that is a reflection of my introversion since I’m recharged by time spent in solitude. But if my fantasies of what I’d do with an extra day all involve hiding at home, perhaps this is an indication that I’m not paying enough attention to my need for that solitude and recharging on a daily basis. Something to think about.

Since 2016’s Leap Day falls on a Monday, most of us will be doing our typical work/school activities. Even so, why not try to set aside a little time for doing something that makes you happy on this gift of an extra day?

In between going to exercise class and returning the library books and cleaning the bathrooms, I’ll sneak in a little time for myself today. (Inquiring minds want to know: will I leave my house or read on the lanai instead? What do you think?)

If money or logistical limitations were no object, what would you do with an extra day?


From Squirt Guns to SPF 50

June 17, 2015

Photo courtesy Tori Campbell

Introduction by Ted Kooser: How’s this poem for its ability to collapse all the years from childhood to middle age in a matter of fifteen short lines? George Bilgere is one of this column’s favorite poets. He lives and teaches in Ohio.

The Wading Pool

The toddlers in their tadpole bodies,
with their squirt guns and snorkels,
their beautiful mommies and inflatable whales,
are still too young to understand that this is as good as it gets.

Soon they must leave the wading pool
and stand all day at the concession stand
with their hormones and snow cones,
their soul patches and tribal tattoos,
pretending not to notice how beautiful they are,

until they simply can’t stand it
and before you know it
they’re lined up on lawn chairs,
dozing in the noonday sun
with their stretch marks and beer bellies,
their Wall Street Journals and SPF 50.

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 ©2014 by George Bilgere from his most recent book of poems, Imperial, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2014. Poem reprinted by permission of George Bilgere and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2015 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.

Carl Sandburg

The Coin of Your Life

October 22, 2014

Photo courtesy Sanja Gjenero

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”
—Carl Sandburg

Friday, October 24 marks the 11th annual Take Back Your Time Day. How will you take charge of your time?

Jennifer Louden

Sculpting Time

August 20, 2014

“Time is never lying around waiting for us to find her. She is elusive. She wants you to sculpt her like clay, to mold her into exactly the form you desire your days to take. If you refuse to do that, if you spend your mornings worrying and your afternoons catering to others, always hoping there will be a few minutes left for you, time will play you like a sucker, making you run harder and faster with each passing week. Time wants you to realize that she is the most precious and irreducible fact of your life. Make her into what you will.”
—Jennifer LoudenThe Woman’s Retreat Book


Life As Art

February 24, 2014

So many times our lives feel like they’ve been reduced to a to-do list we’re forever trying to finish. We tear through our weeks, striving to find a balance between doing and being, giving to others and taking care of ourselves. Even a happy life can be reduced to a black-and-white list of things accomplished. What if we think of life in a different way? What if we think about our days as blank canvases, waiting for us to paint them? What if we turn our lives into an art form, picturing each of our activities as a color?

Most of us spend a good deal of time working for the benefit of others, or to support ourselves financially. Even if we don’t especially enjoy our jobs, there is beauty in them, in the benefits they bring to us and others. We can think of them as the base color of our canvases, and picture those hours painted a favorite color. Our free time gives us a chance to add accent colors to our base color.

Just as each artist has her own vision for her art, each person will have her own vision for her life’s canvas: some people will want theirs primarily filled with one color, and others will want a canvas splashed with multiple colors. Some will gleefully spatter their canvases with bright tones, while others will choose a more muted, serene palette.  I like variety, so I’m happiest when my paintings have multiple colors. My ideal canvas would have plenty of purple and blue, the colors I associate with reading and writing. I’d also have strokes of red for physical activity, green for working for my family, even some yellow for doing nothing. (I’m not sure how a literal painting like this would look, but my imaginary painting looks great!)

At the end of each day, when we look at our finished canvases, what do we notice? Is our free time primarily filled with things we value? Have we let too much work take over? Or too much mindless entertainment? What about self-care, or acts of kindness? Do they appear? What does a week of canvases look like? A month? A year?

We are the artists of our own lives—why don’t we paint some masterpieces? (For more parallels between art and life, see “Artful Living: Applying the Five Es”.)

If your day was a painting, what colors would you fill your canvas with, and what would they represent?

A Field Guide to Now

As Time Unfolds

October 02, 2013

“The heart is not a machine. It does not have the capacity to love at any greater speed, or to feel anything more deeply, when the pace is doubled. While fast is better for machines, we’re fools to live by such a rule set every day. Rushing every second, we forget that we’re capable of a certain quality of joy that can be arrived at only slowly, as time unfolds.”
—Christina Rosalie, A Field Guide to Now

Baby steps

September Is the New January

September 09, 2013

Photo courtesy Candace Penney

Is it just me, or does September feel like a new beginning? Most of my life I’ve treated September the way most people treat January: as a new year. Even before I had a child going back to school or lived in Florida where the promise of the occasional cooler, drier day bumps up my energy, I reevaluated my life in the fall. My birthday is in September, so I think that adds to the “new start” feeling since like most of us I become more introspective around birthdays.

I’ve thought about starting my own Happiness Project, like Gretchen Rubin has written about in the book of the same name, and its follow-up Happier at Home (where the title of this blog post came from). I even began listing areas I’d like to focus on, but decided I’m not ready to attack things I want to change or enhance in quite that fashion. Planning all those months in advance felt too overwhelming to me. Instead, I decided to take baby steps and do some very simple things to get my new year off to a good start:

First, I’m keeping a time log this week to see where I’m spending my time. (I’m using this one.) From there, I hope to come up with a flexible schedule so I can get the important things done while still having time to play.

My weight has become a concern again, so I’m tweaking my eating and fitness routines to combat those creeping pounds.

I’m making plans for fun by figuring out the details of our postponed anniversary trip and scheduling some upcoming Field Trip Fridays.

I’m purging—the freezer, my closet, my file cabinet. I’m always battling stuff!

Even though it’s still blazingly hot here and it doesn’t feel like fall yet, I’m starting to feel more energetic, more likely to make some changes and explore new avenues. I’m ready to savor simple pleasures and take part in everyday adventures. Even though the calendar says September and not January, I’m ready for a new year!

Do you make any special plans in September? Are there any other times of year you evaluate life, set goals or take up challenges?

Eric Hoffer

Feeling Hurried

September 04, 2013

“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.”
—Eric Hoffer


The Week of Yes

March 15, 2013

It started with a pair of socks. I needed a pair of socks to ride in, and I found some cute ones at a tack store where I was having a repair done. As with any specialized item, since the socks were “for riding” they cost more than an equivalent pair of plain socks. I weighed my options: buy the slightly-more-expensive-but-cute socks that are exactly the right length and thickness for riding or save money, wait for a sale, buy another pair of socks that will do but are not quite right. You’d think that would be an easy decision, wouldn’t you? It was when I was standing there holding the socks and debating with myself about buying them that I realized just how stingy I can be with myself.

I’ve been thinking about this concept for quite some time. Where is the line between common sense frugality and stinginess? Part of the way I think comes from how I grew up and most of my young adulthood. For a long time, I did not have money for anything except true necessities. I remember carrying a calculator to the grocery store when I was first married; once I hit a certain amount, items were returned to the shelf. There simply was no extra money in the budget.

But it’s not just money but time that I’m stingy with. I’ve begun to feel that if I’m not working—either for pay or for the good of the family—I’m wasting time. Add these beliefs to my naturally cautious and shy nature and you have a recipe for a narrow, joyless life and a lot of guilt. I seem to take a perverse pleasure in denying myself things I want, whether it’s a pair of socks or a half hour to read *gasp* right in the middle of the day.

I don’t want to live like that. I want to be more generous, loving and kind to myself. I believe that will make me happier as well as help me be more generous and loving to others. So I came up with the concept of “a week of yes”—a week where I followed my impulses, indulged my desires and generally loosened up on myself. Three times I’ve set out to have a “week of yes”—and three times I’ve started and stopped.  I can’t seem to sustain the concept of saying yes for more than a day or two. It’s hard! It’s scary. It requires some serious attention and listening to myself.

Why don’t I say yes? Like too many things, it comes down to fear: What if I say yes and something bad happens? What would other people think? What options will I close off if I say yes? I’m a little afraid of what I’ll get myself into by saying yes. I definitely don’t want a life that is overloaded with too many activities and I don’t want yes to be indulgence for indulgence’s sake.

To make things more confusing, sometimes saying no is really saying yes! Saying no to lots of yummy-but-bad-for-me foods is really saying yes to my bigger goals of being leaner and healthier. (However, saying no to all delicious foods can lead to binge eating. Let’s not get too carried away here.) Saying no to an $80 purse I don’t need and am not in love with means saying yes to keeping that $80 for something else. (Here, a friend’s motto, “If it’s not an absolute yes, it’s a no” comes in handy.)

Instead of a week of yes, I’m slowly and gradually bringing yes into my life in small ways. To start, I’ve come up with these basic guidelines. I will say yes if:
    • It costs less than $10.
    • It’s something I’ve been wanting/wanting to do for a long time.
    • It furthers my larger and most important goals: good health, loving relationships, fulfilling work.
    • It’s an unexpected chance that might not come again.

And yes, I bought the socks.

The socks that started it all.
Do you think you’re generous with yourself? What do you want to say yes to?


Finding the Scarf

November 28, 2012

A Kansas poet, Wyatt Townley has written a number of fine poems about the swift and relentless passage of time, one of the great themes of the world’s poetry, and I especially like this one. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Finding the Scarf

The woods are the book
we read over and over as children.
Now trees lie at angles, felled
by lightning, torn by tornados,
silvered trunks turning back

to earth. Late November light
slants through the oaks
as our small parade, father, mother, child,
shushes along, the wind searching treetops
for the last leaf. Childhood lies

on the forest floor, not evergreen
but oaken, its branches latched
to a graying sky. Here is the scarf
we left years ago like a bookmark,

meaning to return the next day,
having just turned our heads
toward a noise in the bushes,
toward the dinnerbell in the distance,

toward what we knew and did not know
we knew, in the spreading twilight
that returns changed to a changed place.

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 ©2007 by Wyatt Townley from her most recent book of poems, The Afterlives of Trees, Woodley Press, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Wyatt Townley and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 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.


Every Minute Is a Choice

June 17, 2011

On impulse, I began reading an interesting book this morning after watching this short video (I was able to download it electronically from my libary system—how cool is that?!): 

 The book, 168 Hours, by Laura Vanderkam, explains that everyone is given the same amount of time per week: 168 hours. What we do with that is up to us. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but already I’ve had my thinking about time shaken up a bit. The point of the book: “You can choose how to spend your 168 hours, and you have more time than you think.”

I have to admit I was initially a bit resistant. Was this another attempt to get me to pack more into my days? And didn’t sleep matter? I mean, I need seven to eight hours a night and that only leaves me with about 119 hours a week… (Can you hear me starting to make excuses?)

Vanderkam states that for various reasons we overestimate the amount of time we spend working and doing chores. She recommends keeping a time log for a week to see where your time goes (you can download and print your own time log here). I absolutely know I squander a lot of time fooling around on the Internet (while calling it research…) and I watch more TV than I should, but mostly when I have the TV on, I’m doing something else at the same time—like cleaning the kitchen, making dinner or folding laundry. I also suspect that I do certain things than don’t actually need doing, or maybe, don’t need doing by me. I feel like I’m packing my days full with activities…and I am. But am I packing them full of things that are meaningful and important, and that I can do better than others? As one of Vanderkam’s interview subjects said, “Every minute I spend is my choice.”

One of my “Twelve Commandments” is There is time enough. I’m hopeful that 168 Hours will help me remember that, and use my time in a more meaningful fashion.

I’ll continue to read 168 Hours this weekend and I’m excited to learn more. I may find that the nuts and bolts of her approach don't suit my personality, or that her suggestions aren't practical--but even if I don't agree with her 100%, I'm sure I'll learn something.

How will you spend your time this weekend?

Simple pleasures

Monday's Gift

June 06, 2011

Today is an ordinary Monday, and I couldn’t be happier.

Monday is one of my favorite days. After the weekend, I’m usually refreshed and ready to tackle a new week. On Mondays, I walk with a neighborhood friend for exercise. Our subdivision’s four-mile paved trail takes us just under an hour to walk, and we usually spend that time talking so it seems quicker. I love getting in a good walk on Monday morning—I feel like I’m starting my day and my week off right.

On Monday, I usually spend time reading emails and blogs, getting back in touch with my virtual friends and acquaintances. If I haven’t already done so (and despite my best intentions, I probably have not), I plan my own blog posts for the week, writing, researching and choosing photos.

Usually, Monday offers me time to read a book on writing or an issue of Poets & Writers, which contains so much good stuff that I’m usually behind by several issues. I also like to read books and articles that might help me with blog posts, or with my own still-in-the-infant-stage book. If I have freelance assignments, I devote a block of time to working on them.

On Monday, I take a few minutes to tidy up our family room. I change our sheets, and today I also replaced our comforter with a cooler, matelasse coverlet. I water plants, pause to pet Scout, work on the accumulated mountain of laundry, and so on.

Monday is a puttery day—full of pleasant tasks that make me feel I’m contributing to a smooth and happy home life, while still exercising my body, my mind and my creativity. It’s probably the most balanced day of my week. I don’t schedule appointments if I can help it, and I love the swath of time before me, mine for the filling. Monday helps me remember I have choices. I can choose with what attitude I view my work and activities; I can organize that work to follow my natural energy patterns. It reminds me that work can be as enjoyable as play.

Monday shows me that I can control what I do with my time. I can relax into it, flow from job to job, and things go smoothly. I can, for at least one day, quiet the voices in my head that tell me I’m not doing enough. Maybe soon Monday’s gift will spill over into other days of the week.

What’s your favorite day of the week, and why? What does your “perfect” day look like?

Take Back Your Time Day

Take Back Your Time

October 22, 2010

"Time is the coin of your life.  It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.  Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."
 ~Carl Sandburg

Did you know that we in the U.S. work more hours than any other industrialized nation? In fact, we work more hours than medieval peasants!

This Sunday, Oct. 24, marks the seventh annual Take Back Your Time Day. This movement, which grew out of the voluntary simplicity movement, is a “major U.S./Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our families and relationships, our communities and our environment,” according to the movement’s official Web site, http://www.timeday.org/. (The date of Oct. 24 is significant: it falls nine weeks before the end of the year, and symbolizes the fact that Americans now work an average of nine full weeks more per year than Western Europeans.)

Time for contemplation and awe

Time Day organizers encourage both personal efforts and local and national legislation to help people win back their time. If you want to learn more, you can visit their Web site, read the official handbook, check out Take Back Your Time’s channel on YouTube, or read my SheKnows.com article.

No matter what your paid work situation, it’s good to evaluate periodically how you spend your time, and whether or not you’re using it wisely. As a freelancer as well as a mother, I find that even though I don’t go to an office 40+ hours a week, work has a way of filling my hours and days. My paid and unpaid work and personal life tend to bleed into each other. Sometimes I have to adjust how much time I’m spending at the barn with Tank or with friends socializing (ahem) and how much time I spend keeping the house running or meeting writing deadlines, even and especially self-imposed ones. Sometimes we have to take back our time not from someone or something outside of ourselves, but from our own habits. I think it may be time for a reevaluation of how I spend my time.

Time to explore the natural world

Whether or not you work full time for pay, I’m pretty sure you work hard at whatever you do. So this Sunday, take back your time—spend a few hours with your family or friends, alone doing something you enjoy—or even doing absolutely nothing. Be mindful and deliberate about what you’re doing, or not doing, and see how that feels. I plan to spend the afternoon on my lanai, with a good book and my journal so I can write out what’s going on, what’s working and what isn’t—I’m going to take back my time.

What about you? How have you been spending your time? How do you want to spend it? How can you take back your time?

Time well spent