A Field Guide to Now


September 30, 2013

That’s right—thank goodness it’s Monday! I’ve written before about how Monday is one of my favorite days of the week. It remains so, I think partly because it has so much variety. I pack a lot of simple pleasures into Mondays, and sometimes some everyday adventures. For example, today I:

Drank coffee from my favorite mug and ate a homemade coconut ginger scone while reading A Field Guide to Now.

Walked our nature trail with a friend.

Went to see Tank. He was feeling very full of himself and we had some fun playing horse games on the ground. And his lips are almost completely healed up!

Took a delightful and much-needed warm shower after sweating (and sweating) in the 90-degree heat—it’s fall, darn it—won’t someone please turn off the heat?

Folded some laundry and changed the sheets on our bed. My husband and I both love fresh sheets! Going to sleep tonight will be extra nice.

Looked for freelance writing jobs online and asked for more information about a posting for a horse health blogger!

Fertilized my orchids.

Still to come:

Reading for pleasure. I have several books started, and I’ll be picking up either No Name or Fragile—or both—later today.

Watching my Tampa Bay Rays play the Texas Rangers for the second American League wild card spot.

What simple pleasures and everyday adventures did you enjoy today?


7 Things You Can Do to Feel Happier Right Now

September 27, 2013

You probably have a pretty good idea of what gives you deep, lasting happiness and contentment. But sometimes what it takes to reach that deep happiness doesn’t make you feel…all that happy. What if you’d just like to give your mood a little boost—what can you do to feel happier right now? Here are seven simple things you can do to feel happier right now:

Make a List. List your dreams, your goals (but not your chores), your top-ten favorite movies, the books you’d take to a desert island, the five happiest moments you can remember, or the next three places you want to visit. (As I was preparing this piece, Gretchen Rubin put up this post, strictly about making lists!)   Gretchen writes, “Making lists of this sort is a terrific exercise to stimulate the imagination, heighten powers of observation, and stoke appreciation of the everyday details of life.” 

Go outside. A dose of natural light might be just the ticket to make you feel happier. If you can be near trees or water, that’s even better. Connecting with nature is a better pick-me-up than a cup of coffee, according to research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. So step away from that computer screen and take a walk in the park. 

Reframe “failures.”  When you’re striving for an ambitious goal, you’ll probably face some setbacks, and yes, even some failures. One way to feel happier about this is to reframe your “failure,” according to happiness researcher Robert Biswas-Diener in The World Book of Happiness. “Sometimes your most treasured goals run up against serious obstacles. Sometimes these obstacles are outside circumstances and sometimes they are related to how we have framed the goal in the first place. When this happens we tend to react with frustration and disappointment. But by learning to think flexibly about our goals and to adjust them in the face of failure, we can end up feeling happier.” Thomas Edison is probably the best known proponent of this theory—he is often quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

Go for the flow. According to social psychologist David G. Myers, “Happy people often are in the zone called ‘flow’, absorbed in tasks that challenge but don’t overwhelm them” (The World Book of Happiness). Take up a hobby that offers the chance for flow—gardening, sketching, crafting, baking—whatever appeals to you. You’ll find more happiness when involved in one of these activities than if you spent the same amount of time watching TV, for example.

Complete a nagging task. You know, that errand you’ve been putting off, the phone call you need to make or the household chore that you hate but you have to do. If you’re like me, unfinished business nags at the back of your mind, draining some of the happiness out of your day. Gretchen Rubin writes about this here, and about how to get yourself to do those tasks you don’t want to do here

Listen to upbeat music. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that participants’ feelings of happiness increased when they listened to upbeat music and focused on lifting their moods. Other studies have found that music not only affects mood, but changes how you perceive the world. Create a playlist with your favorite songs for times when you need a mood boost. (And for extra happiness, sing along!)

Choose to be happy. Commit to enjoying the next 24 hours no matter what. It’s amazing what a simple commitment to being happy can do for you.

How do you lift your mood?

Life on Mars

Roast Chicken and Red Wine

September 25, 2013

Photo courtesy Roger Kirby
Tracy K. Smith won the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poems, Life on Mars, from which I’ve selected this week’s poem, which presents a payday in the way many of us at some time have experienced it. The poet lives in Brooklyn, New York. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

The Good Life

When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.

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 ©2011 by Tracy K. Smith from her most recent book of poems, Life on Mars, Graywolf Press, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Tracy K. Smith and 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.


The Eyes Have It

September 23, 2013

Don't look down.
Since Tank’s lips were still too sore for a bit, when I rode him this weekend I used only my halter and lead rope. Since I had no reins with which to communicate, I had to use my eyes, seat and legs to tell Tank where to go and how fast. Notice I said “eyes”—with or without a bridle, one of the rules of riding is to look where you want to go. Sounds simple, right? It is, in theory, but it’s awfully easy to find yourself looking down at the horse, or at the ground, or even in another direction than the way you really want to go. The horse gets conflicting signals and probably doesn’t go anywhere at all.

Remarkably like life, wouldn’t you say? We need to focus our attention on the direction in which we want to travel. Don’t look at obstacles, but beyond them to our chosen destinations. Don’t look backwards, because that’s not where we’re going. Focus on what we want rather than what we don’t want, because according to Peter Jones in How to Do Everything and Be Happy, “It simply isn’t possible to not focus on something. The very act of NOT thinking about something requires your brain to conjure up images of the thing you don’t want to think about, so you can ignore it. The only way not to focus on the wrong thing is to switch your focus to something else.”

We have no control over many things that happen to us or are a part of our lives, but we can choose the direction we look, what we focus on. Are we looking forward to where we want to go? Focusing on the obstacles or the opportunities? Looking for the positive or the negative? 

What are some things you’d like to focus on?

Everyday adventures

This 'N That

September 20, 2013

My brain is shooting off every which way today—so you’re going to get that kind of blog post: a hodge podge of thoughts and information. Often times I clear my head by talking or writing things out, so here goes. (Thanks for putting up with me.)

1. My horse is a doofus. On Wednesday, when I went to ride Tank, I found that his lips were stiff and swollen. His tongue, gums and the roof of his mouth were unaffected. None of us had ever seen anything like it, and as we pondered what could have caused such an affliction (Ant bites? An insect sting? Allergic reaction to something he ate?), it occurred to me that the horses have a new salt and mineral block in their paddock—could he have been a bit overenthusiastic in his consumption? We don’t know for sure, but it seems the most likely explanation.  We’ll be keeping an eye on him and on the other horses to see if any of them develop the same problem. He’s eating normally and doesn’t seem distressed by it, so I’m not worried—only puzzled because he’s never done that before.

2. It’s Mary Stewart Reading Week until the 22nd (sorry for the late notice). I’m reading Nine Coaches Waiting, a favorite of mine. I’ve mentioned Mary Stewart in a number of posts, most notably this one. I love her romantic suspense novels and just found out that Lady Stewart recently celebrated her 97th birthday! (She shares a birthday with my mom—cool!) If you’re looking for a lighthearted, interesting read, I recommend one of her books. This unofficial fan site has more information about her, and lots of fun extras such as the quiz “Which Mary Stewart novel is right for you?” and a map showing the settings of her books.

3. How did it get to be Sept. 20? It seems like just yesterday that it was the first of September and now we’re nearly through the month. I’m not complaining—that means that October with its cooler weather is quickly approaching. I can’t believe the year is three-quarters of the way done. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much this year. Better get a move on!

4. Pumpkin is taking over the world. Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie milkshakes, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin waffles, even pumpkin dog biscuits. (I’m going to make these for Scout—I even bought a dog biscuit-shaped cookie cutter!)

5. I’ve just discovered Brenda Lee Johnson, Kyra Sedgwick’s character in The Closer after checking out the series from the library. I love her toughness, barely disguised by a southern drawl, and how she refuses to be intimidated by the many people who attempt to intimidate her. I’ve found that channeling Brenda helps me stiffen my spine when dealing with people trying to trample on me. Who says TV is a waste of time?

Wow—I feel better. Now it’s your turn: what’s on your mind today?