Happy Little Things: Essential Oil Aromatherapy

November 13, 2015

It’s funny how things start. In yoga class, the teacher offered us a dab of a stress-relieving essential oil during our final resting pose. I don’t know if it alleviated my stress (which was pretty low after practicing yoga for an hour), but it smelled lovely. In the back of my mind, I decided I wanted to buy a bottle of that scent to have on hand, simply because it smelled good.

Then, after thus stimulating my reticular activating system, I began to see information about essential oils and aromatherapy everywhere. Friends began to use and sell different brands of oils. I remembered that one friend of mine used essential oils on her horse to help calm her after another friend asked me about trying them on a pony at our barn who is especially high strung. I wondered if using essential oils in a diffuser would make our house smell better (we rarely open the windows because of the humidity so I think it smells stale in here) and maybe even boost our moods and immune systems. Maybe I could find some essential oils to improve my ability to think and concentrate when I’m writing!

So with my mom’s help, for my birthday I bought a diffuser, a set of oils for the aromatherapy beginner, and a book on basic aromatherapy. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with the oils and the diffuser and have found several combinations I like: eucalyptus and lemon for the kitchen, peppermint for my office, lavender in our bedroom at night. I only have one diffuser, so I move it around the house with me as needed. I plan to use the oils in making cleaning solutions for the house, and also find a way to use them in my car—either a diffuser meant for the car, or simply a cotton ball with a bit of oil on it. I have a lot to learn about what each oil is good for (and I still haven’t bought that first bottle that started all this) but I’m enjoying the simple pleasure of finding out. Essential oils are my newest happy little thing!

What’s your newest happy little thing?

Armed services

Verses for the Armed Services

November 11, 2015

Photo courtesy picaland

Introduction by Ted Kooser: During World War II the government endorsed the publication of inexpensive paperbacks for persons serving overseas. Jehanne Dubrow, who lives and teaches in Maryland and whose husband is a naval officer, here shows us one of those pocket-sized volumes. This poet's latest book is The Arranged Marriage, (University of New Mexico Press, 2015).

Armed Services Editions

My copy of The Fireside Book of Verse
is as the seller promised—the stapled spine,
the paper aged to Army tan—no worse
for wear, given the cost of its design,
six cents to make and printed on a press
once used for magazines and pulp. This book
was never meant to last a war much less
three quarters of a century.
                                                I look
for evidence of all the men who scanned
these lines, crouched down in holes or lying in
their racks. I read the poems secondhand.
Someone has creased the page. Did he begin
then stop to sleep? to clean his gun perhaps?
to listen to the bugler playing taps?

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 ©2015 by Jehanne Dubrow, “Armed Services Editions,” (Bellevue Literary Review, Vol. 15, no. 2, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Jehanne Dubrow 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.


Should We Pursue Happiness?

November 09, 2015

Albert Camus said, “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Does this mean we shouldn’t try to seek ways to be happier? Should we just “get over it” and live the life before us?

Well, that depends on what we mean by happiness.

If we’re confusing happiness with pleasure, maybe. Continual chasing of pleasure and feel-good moments will not bring deep and lasting happiness. Being afraid of or avoiding negative emotions will also backfire, because frankly, no life is devoid of experiences that feel sad or scary and there is a lot to be learned from those experiences. But happiness as I define it here on the blog isn’t just pleasure—it’s a deeper, wider, more all-encompassing emotion. An emotion that includes joy and pleasure, but also satisfaction after achieving something worthwhile, or living up to my ideals in a difficult situation. It also encompasses contentment and a feeling of well-being. So many facets of happiness make achieving it easier as well as more worthwhile.

We run into trouble when we feel we should always feel happy. Negative feelings are normal. Thinking we shouldn’t have them can make us even more miserable. We shouldn’t pursue feelings of happiness at the expense of everything else. That would be like eating only chocolate and never eating spinach and expecting to be healthy. Maybe the spinach doesn’t taste as good as the chocolate (at least to me it doesn’t), but it offers nutrients chocolate doesn’t. I want to be strong and healthy in both body and mind, and I can’t do that if I only eat chocolate…or pursue pleasure. We should be open and accepting of the richness of all our emotions, even times of sadness, fear, boredom, or frustration. These emotions often bear a message of change, or wake us up from sleepwalking through life.

I can’t say that I’ve been especially happy the past two weeks. And yet—I have. I’m heartbroken over losing our beloved family dog, but somehow the breaking open of my heart has allowed in the caring and understanding of others, and in those moments, I’ve felt loved by and connected to them in ways I hadn’t before. The crack in my heart has released my feelings of love and gratitude for those people, and for the many other rich gifts in my life.

What does pursuing happiness mean to you?


What's to Fear?

November 04, 2015

Photo courtesy Autumn Mott

“Nearly everything we’re afraid of is going to happen anyway, so what’s to fear? There is no secure or unchanging ground, and we make ourselves safe only when we see and accept the way life is. Utterly spontaneous and impermanent. When it is time to laugh, we laugh. When it is time to weep, we weep. We are cheated of nothing in life except that from which we withhold ourselves by ego’s narrow bounds.”
—Karen Maezen Miller, Hand Wash Cold

30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge: 2015 Edition

A Month to Be Grateful: The 2015 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge

November 02, 2015

I’m joining Dani DiPirro’s 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge again this year (I wrote about last year’s here and here). I figure concentrating on what I have and am grateful for will ease the pain of what I’ve lost.  Plus it’s fun!

I enjoy and welcome the chance to slow down and ponder the many things I’m grateful for and, I admit, take for granted. I’ll post my daily entry on Facebook and on Instagram if any of you want to follow along. If you want to join in, click here for DiPirro’s post announcing the challenge, and here for the list of prompts.

Today’s theme is “Inspiration.” So many things inspire me in different ways that it’s hard to pick just one. I’m inspired by the beauty of nature, by music, and by people I look up to, just to name a few. Since I’ve been reading the book What Makes Olga Run? I’m especially grateful for the inspiration of older women who live vibrant, exciting lives on their own terms. Reading about Olga Kotelko makes me push myself just a little harder during HIIT class and encourages me to believe that getting older doesn’t have to mean I can’t do the things I want to do anymore. While I have no desire to be a master’s level track athlete like Olga, I do want to be able to walk, bike, ride Tank, and do yoga for as long as possible. I don’t want to be held back from doing the things I want to do because my body is too weak or out of shape to allow me to. Seeing and reading about examples of people still active and vital in their 90s inspires me to believe I can be that way, too. (Ms. Kotelko died in June of 2014 at age 95. You can read more of her story here.)

What are you grateful for today?