Spring Break

March 25, 2013

I’m taking a brief spring break from blogging, but I’ll be back soon. Hope your week is a happy one!


Five Things Making Me Happy Right Now

March 22, 2013

So much of life is made up of the little things, the simple pleasures and everyday adventures that form the main part of our existence. If we can take pleasure in those little things (instead of waiting for some distant “big thing”), we’ll find our day-to-day lives that much happier. Here are five little things making me happy right now:

Singing. I love to sing—not for an audience, but with the radio or CDs, in the shower, driving down the road, etc. I just started doing it again lately, after falling silent for months.

Robins Eggs. Every year when the Easter candy hits the shelves, I treat myself to a bag (just one) of Robins Eggs. In order to be satisfying, they have to be made with Whopper brand malted milk candies and they have to be the full size, not the minis. I’m very particular about my junk food.

My dog. Scout makes me happy nearly every day…except when she has to go potty at 4 in the morning. I spend considerable time each day petting her, giving her treats, loving her. Today’s her 14th birthday, and we’ve had her since she was eight weeks old. She’s an integral member of the family, and we know that since she’s aging she won’t be with us forever. I’m making the most of the time we have.

Gardenias. I just picked the first gardenia blossom from my plant and its gorgeous scent perfumes my desk. Once picked, the flowers last only a day or two, but while they last, they can make a whole room smell wonderful.

The Olive Grove, by Katherine Kizilos. I loved visiting Greece a few years ago, and while I’d love to return someday, for now I have to make do with other people’s trips. Kizilos makes me feel like I’m there when she describes the blue of the Aegean, and the way the island of Santorini rises up out of the sea. 

What’s making you happy right now?


Passing Through

March 20, 2013

Photo courtesy Wendy Domeni

Each of the senses has a way of evoking time and place. In this bittersweet poem by Jeffrey Harrison of Massachusetts, birdsong offers reassurance as the speaker copes with loss. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]


Walking past the open window, she is surprised
by the song of the white-throated sparrow
and stops to listen. She has been thinking of
the dead ones she loves--her father who lived
over a century, and her oldest son, suddenly gone
at forty-seven--and she can't help thinking
she has called them back, that they are calling her
in the voices of these birds passing through Ohio
on their spring migration. . . because, after years
of summers in upstate New York, the white-throat
has become something like the family bird.
Her father used to stop whatever he was doing
and point out its clear, whistling song. She hears it
again: "Poor Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody."
She tries not to think, "Poor Andy," but she
has already thought it, and now she is weeping.
But then she hears another, so clear, it's as if
the bird were in the room with her, or in her head,
telling her that everything will be all right.
She cannot see them from her second-story window--
they are hidden in the new leaves of the old maple,
or behind the white blossoms of the dogwood--
but she stands and listens, knowing they will stay
for only a few days before moving on.

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 © 2006 by Jeffrey Harrison. Reprinted from Incomplete Knowledge, Four Way Books, 2006, with permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 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.


Take One Book and Call Me in the Morning

March 18, 2013

Feeling down?

Take one book and call me in the morning.

I don’t know about you, but I self-medicate with books. When I’m enduring a difficult stretch, I often choose to read books that are funny, or I’ll reach for a familiar comfort read. I’ll choose the simple and clear over the more complex, simply because my mind is under strain already and I want any input I have control over to be positive and uplifting.

Well, it turns out that my instinct for bibliotherapy is a sound one: In several countries, including England, people with mild to moderate mental health issues, including anxiety, panic attacks and depression, can be prescribed high-quality self help books they can borrow from their local libraries. Miranda McKearney, chief executive of the Reading Agency, a group that helped develop the list of books, told Mark Brown of The Guardian, “There is a growing evidence base that shows that self help reading can help people with certain mental health conditions to get better.” The program is called Books on Prescription, and the topics the books cover include anger, anxiety, depression, binge eating and stress and worry, among others. (Please note that this program is not intended for those with serious mental illness.) Click here for a list of 30 of the most popular books used in Books on Prescription programs.

But what if you don’t have a mental health condition—can books still help you feel better? I certainly think so, and so does the Reading Agency, which has also compiled a list of “mood boosting books”—books they believe will generally provide uplifting reading. My favorite Barbara Kingsolver book, Prodigal Summer, is on this list, and a couple of books that are currently on my TBR list.  I’ll explore some of the other titles because I’m always looking for happy reads. Click here for the whole list. (If you have a book to suggest, they’re currently compiling a new list for 2013. Tweet your recommendation using #moodboosting or email them at moodboosting@readingagency.org.uk. Recommendations will be given to reading groups who will decide which books make the cut for the list to be released in May.)

If I were to make my own list of mood boosting books, in addition to Prodigal Summer, it would include:

Fifty Acres and a Poodle, Jeanne Marie Laskas

Cartoon collections like Baby Blues, Zits, or Calvin and Hobbes

Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A book from the Anne of Green Gables series, probably Anne of the Island (I dont like the cover of this edition, but its the most recent), Anne of Windy Poplars or Anne’s House of Dreams. Or more likely, all three.

A cozy mystery by Agatha Christie or Patricia Wentworth.

A collection of Dave Barry’s newspaper columns, like Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up or Dave Barry Talks Back.

So what about you? I’m dying to know—what would your mood-boosting books list include?


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?