Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday--The Enchanting Le Vieux Couvent

February 01, 2019

Early morning at LVC
It’s Friday, and it’s cold, and it’s February—would you like to escape to an enchanted place, even for a few minutes?

Come with me to Le Vieux Couvent!

W-a-a-a-y back in October, I had the privilege of traveling with Laure Ferlita to her workshop at Le Vieux Couvent, following our stay in Paris.

LVC, as we call it, is in the little village of Frayssinet in southwest rural France, about five hours from Paris. As its name suggests, it is an old convent—17th century—converted into a special event and art retreat center. The hosts, Bill and Corinne, were utterly charming, the gourmet food out of this world (I now have a taste for duck), and the whole experience, hands down, one of the most delightful and extraordinary of my life.

Today’s Field Trip Friday will focus only on LVC and the village of Frayssinet. (I’ll save photos of our explorations of the region for future installments.)

After taking the train from Paris, our group met in the courtyard for aperitif (a delightful practice we repeated during our entire stay at various locations around LVC). Corinne welcomed us, and we eventually dispersed to our various rooms. 

An aperitif--there was always wine, too!
In addition to the main building where the kitchen, dining room, salon, and most of the bedrooms were located, there was also a studio and a house just down the road where Laure and I stayed in separate apartments.

I stayed here, at Joel's house, in a separate building
My neighbor
Everywhere you looked there was an enticing path, something blooming, or an “is this real?” scene. Sketching opportunities everywhere!

Kitchen courtyard

Herbs outside the kitchen door

A small selection of art books at a table at the entrance to the studio
The food, oh the food…


Picnic lunch
A first course
A cheese course--look at the grape scissors!
We did a little exploring of the area around LVC, and joined the local community one Friday night at the bar that only opens on Friday night. Everyone was welcome—visitors, dogs, babies… 

Village rooftops

And just next door, was a Little Free Library. I didn’t get any closer than this, unfortunately, to see the books on hand.

View from the studio--original convent building on left

The village church
The staff at LVC were also outstanding, including Corrine and Bill’s hard-working son, Joel, whose talents ranged from serving meals to unclogging showers to rebuilding kitchens. And Bill, who acted as host and tour guide—well, there are no words that do justice to him. He was quite a character.

Using LVC as our base, we explored some of the surrounding villages, including St. Cirque La Popie, Castlefranc, and Sarlat, the Chateau de Beynac, and prehistoric caves at Cougnac. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip to the south of France as much as I enjoyed reviewing my photos and memories. I’ll share more of our experiences in future Field Trip Friday posts. 

Laure is planning another workshop at LVC in October 2020—click here for more information. If you want a once-in-a-lifetime art retreat experience, I can’t recommend this experience highly enough.

Aesthetics of joy

The “Aesthetics of Joy”—Creating an Environment That Boosts Happiness

January 28, 2019

While it’s true that a good measure of our happiness depends on internal factors like attitudes and beliefs, it’s NOT true that our environment has nothing to do with feelings of joy and happiness.

Designer Ingrid Fetell Lee’s 2018 book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, (Little, Brown Spark) is all about how the “seemingly mundane spaces and objects we interact with every day have surprising and powerful effects on our mood.”

Lee calls these the “aesthetics of joy,” and they are: energy, abundance, freedom, harmony, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, celebration, renewal.

Joyful is one of the most intriguing books on happiness I’ve read. It was interesting to read the scientific reasoning behind why certain objects and spaces lift the spirits while others depress them. Lee’s thorough examination of the factors that contribute to joy was thought-provoking—from the questions (on page 10) that help you determine if your surroundings are joyful or not (including “How often do you laugh?”, “What emotions do you feel when you walk into your home at the end of the day? How about when you enter each room?”, “Who are the most joyful people in your life? How often do you see them?” and “What are your ‘happy places’? Are any within ten miles of your home? When was the last time you visited one?”) to her statement that, “At the heart of this book lies the idea that joy isn't just something we find. It’s also something we can make, for ourselves and for those around us.”

She continues, “You can use this book as a field guide to spotting and savoring more joy in your surroundings, to help you gain a better understanding of why certain things and places light you up inside. And you can also use it as a palette, to design and craft more joy into your world.”

You can also download a “Joyful Toolkit” at Lee's blog, aestheticsofjoy.com. These worksheets will take you through exercises to discover what brings you joy, as well as what activities, people, and places kill your joy. 

I’ve unconsciously been pursing the aesthetics of joy through what I call simple pleasures and everyday adventures. My penchant for pretty notebooks and painting my home office lavender are just two small examples. Now Joyful has given me a whole raft of things to think about and experiment with in regard to what places, people, and activities bring me joy. I definitely recommend it if you want to find simple, doable actions that will make you feel more joyful.

What would add joy and happiness to your life today? 

Link love

New Year, New Link Love

January 25, 2019

Luna ready for action

Happy Friday, everyone! I don’t mean to rub it in, but here in Florida we’re enjoying a stretch of pleasant weather—i.e., cool temperatures and lower humidity. I haven’t had to wear shorts for a couple of weeks! (Everyone is happy about that.) Today, I’m going to take Luna for a walk and work on a freelance project with my windows open! Simple pleasure!

Here are a few tidbits from my recent internet explorations that I think you might find interesting:

I find almost everything David writes on Raptitude thought-provoking. Here’s a short excerpt from his “How to Enjoy Life”:

“Life’s enjoyment isn’t all locked up the things we want to do. There’s enjoyment available to us in almost all of the obligatory maintenance stuff too. It is possible to enjoy standing in line at the deli, sweeping the floor, turning the compost pile, sitting in traffic, and untangling Christmas lights—unless we see those parts of life simply as obstacles to the enjoyable parts, as we often do....

“We don’t do these things—or most things—for reasons of pleasure, but pleasure is available in most things.”

A few words of caution and advice regarding the constant insistence that we leave our comfort zones from “Please Stop Telling Me to Leave My Comfort Zone”:

“In a world of increasing demands on our time and attention, our comfort zones act as predictable spaces of mastery where we can seek refuge when the stress becomes too much. They act as containers to shore up confidence, gain momentum, and think clearly. When we spend less time grappling with discomfort, we can focus more on what matters most. If the people who routinely push themselves past their comfort zones are metaphorically skydiving out of airplanes, those of us who choose to operate from within our comfort zones are serenely laying bricks, creating a home we can thrive in.”

An unexpected loss spurred Emily Maloney to write “Why I’ve Become a Now Person.” The amount of upheaval in my own life in the past few months made this piece resonate with me. “Make all your resolutions immediate,” she writes. Working on it.

If you’re still working on not caring what others think (as I am), here’s some advice from Marelisa Fabrega at Daring to Live Fully:

If you rely on the opinion of others to feel good about yourself, then of course youre going to give a lot of importance to what others think of you.
Therefore, if you want to stop caring what others think, you need to start relying on yourself for validation, instead of relying on the validation of others. That is, you need to trust yourself.

Gretchen Rubin knows plenty about happiness—it was 10 years ago that her book The Happiness Project came out. In this post, she shares “30 Tips I Use to Make Myself Happier, Right Now.” Because, “Yes, of course, sometimes terrible circumstances make it impossible for me to be happy, but it’s almost always possible to be happier, and often with just a few small steps, I can give myself a big boost.” 

Futureme.org allows users to write letters to their future selves. What encouragement or wisdom could you send to yourself one year, five years from now? This idea intrigues me, and it’s free.

One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, passed away on January 17. She’s a good choice if you’re not sure you’ll enjoy reading poetry. Read about her life here (I just discovered we shared the same birthday!)

Or listen to her read her poem “The Summer Day,” which ends with the lines most of us have heard:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Note: Starting this month, the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter will hit your inbox on the last Wednesday of the month. Not a subscriber? Click here. (If you already subscribe to Catching Happiness blog updates, you’ll receive the newsletter automatically.)



January 21, 2019

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

I’m back. So where were we?

The past two weeks flew by (what a surprise). After wrapping up a couple of freelance writing assignments, I enjoyed some much-needed rest and mental downtime. During my time off, I:

  • Watched Tidying Up With Marie Kondo on Netflix. I know her methods can be somewhat controversial, but I found her presence soothing, and her attitude respectful rather than shaming, even in the face of American-style excess. 
  • Took down the “happiness souvenirs” from my bulletin board. There were fewer than in previous years, but I think that was because I didn’t do a great job of collecting them, rather than that there were fewer happy moments.
  • Created a vision board for 2019.
  • Thought about and brainstormed on my word of the year, “rise.”

Mostly I rested my brain and my emotions.

By the end of 2018, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I got sick twice (which is unusual for me), and found myself eating junk food uncontrollably and leaving the TV on all day for comfort. I needed a reset. I share this because even though I know better, I don’t think I’m the only one who sometimes runs off the rails when life gets crazy. And while my reset came at the beginning of a new year, it’s something we can do any time of year. Call a halt to “normal” and take a look at where our habits are taking us.

Now I’m creating a new morning routine, working on goals again, and also leaving time for play and unstructured creative time. I’ve got some great books on happiness to share with you, some new links to love, and more trips to France for Field Trip Friday. I feel refreshed and ready to dig in to life again.

Hello, 2019.

So what’s new with you?


Out With the Old, In With the New (Year)

January 04, 2019

Photo courtesy malohan, via Pixabay

It’s a bright, shiny new year. How is it treating you so far?

So far so good, here at Catching Happiness. I’m happy to say my freelance work continues to flow in, and our son recently passed his (very difficult) 2-20 property and casualty insurance agent’s license exam. A child’s success: that’s a happy BIG thing.

The end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 have been a scramble. I’m slowly making the time to reflect on 2018 as well as begin to think about goals and projects for 2019. In November, I’ll have been producing Catching Happiness for 10 years. How is that even possible?! I still remember how exciting and scary it felt to click publish for the first time. I’ll have to come up with a fitting way for us all to celebrate!

 “Flow” was my 2018 word of the year, and it served me well. I worked and traveled more than I have in past years, and I lost a parent. We also added a puppy to the household, and even though Luna’s a year old now, she still requires significant training and supervision—and she’s not always getting it. (My husband’s Christmas slippers didn’t survive a week!) For the past few months of 2018, I’ve felt like I was riding a raft in white water—going with the flow was a fitting image to hang onto.

I’ve been thinking a lot about where I want to go, figuratively speaking, in 2019. My comforting routines have fallen by the wayside and need to be rebuilt. I’m still getting used to life at my new barn. The owner is wonderful, and it will be a good situation in the long run, but we’re still finding our footing. I need to simplify my life (again) so I can pay attention to the things that mean the most to me. (And I have a lot of messes to clean up. A. Lot. Of. Messes.)

I think my word of the year for 2019 is going to be “rise.” It keeps knocking on the door of my consciousness, but I don’t know what it’s trying to tell me yet. Guess I’ll have 12 months to figure it out.

Do you choose a word of the year? How is your planning for 2019 going? What are some of your hopes and dreams for the new year? What was great about 2018, and what lessons did it teach you? Please share in the comments below!

Traditionally, I’ve taken a break during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I didn’t get the chance to do that last week, so I’m going to take next week off instead. Be back soon!