Tracking the good stuff
One good thing leads to another
Last year on a walk around the neighborhood, we stopped at the Little Free Library box that's tucked in a break in the split-rail fence, two blocks down.
Inside the box I saw the bright yellow spine of Shawn Achor's book, On Happiness. I was familiar with Achor's (funny) TED Talk and took it home.
A new practice
Achor's book is filled with stories and studies on how to boost your happiness. One way is to create a daily list of three good things. It's much the same as a gratitude, list, but I like the idea of three good things.
As you sit with pen in hand, you might at first wonder what good your ordinary day held.
Stick with it
Take a step-by-step run through your day ... you'll find there were good things.
1) that warm shower after a chill
2) seeing the sun after the rain, or
3) a smile from that stranger on the street
It's surprising how comforting and reassuring it can be to recall even the smallest moments.
Taking it to another level
Yesterday, I decided to try something different ... same exercise, but in a new format. Every day for the next 100 days I will continue to list three good things about my day ... and illustrate one.
The idea is inspired by Michael Beirut's 100 Day Project. My goal is to experiment with writing (maybe a poem or short essay), collage, painting, drawing, and photography.
In keeping with Beirut's outline, I will keep the project simple and work on it for only 15-30 minutes a day, for 100 days.
Will you join me?
You don't have to illustrate your list and no special skills are needed.
Just write down three good things at the end of each day. You can list them in a notebook, on sticky notes, a chalkboard, or document them on your phone.
Whatever is most convenient, and makes it more likely you'll stick with it.
I started with a blank notebook and keep it on a side table where I'm sure to see it every day.
If, like me, you want to take it to another level, pair an illustration or photograph with one entry from the day's list.
If you like hand lettering, hand letter your list.
Experiment with abstract images, shapes, and colors that represent how the good feels, or looks, to you.
Either way, it's a good exercise to remind ourselves that if we look, really look, there is something good to be logged and appreciated every day.
I hope you'll join me.
p.s. I've created a blank template to keep my 100 day entries consistent ... if you like, download and use the template for your list.
Weeks into winter, we were 17" below average for snowfall, and then came the storms, one after another, and they dumped enough snow to make up the deficit.
After the first storm it seemed we were living in a snow globe. Snow covered rooftops, trees, and streets ... for days. It was beautiful.
After the snow came, I realized I missed the hush of a snow-covered landscape and the crisp air and blue sky that follows.
But winter is cold, often frigid, dark, and sometimes it seems like spring is just so far away.
One way to get through it is to get outside.
This is Snow Sculpting Week.
For the past 15 years, I've made a winter beauty for my Happy Snow Days greeting card that goes out in December. Sometimes I plan ahead and make one in January or February for the following year. Other times I take a chance and hope for snow early in November or December ... and it's always worked out.
Until it didn't.
For the first time in 15 years I didn't have a winter beauty for my winter greeting card. It was a mix of disappointment ... and relief.
Every year I shiver at the thought of going outside to start another ... afraid I won't come up with anything as good as what I've done before ... worried I won't find the right materials or create the right expression.
And it's cold.
Each one takes about two hours from start to finish.
I struggle with the thought of heading out into the cold and wring my hands and furrow my brow with concern. About halfway through, I have serious doubts. I take photos from the left and right to gain a better perspective ... to figure out what working, and what's not. Forage again for a different leaf, sprig, or twig to make the mouth right. Or the nose.
My fingers get stiff with the cold and by the time I'm done, the cold has reached my core.
Creating, making, and building things come with challenges. It's to be expected. With each winter beauty there was doubt, but when they were done, I felt a sense of accomplishment, glad I braved the cold and pushed aside my doubts.
But I cannot ignore that sense of relief I felt when it didn't snow.
So I've been mulling it over. ... will I make another, or have I done all I can do with them?
How do you know when to stop? When persistence no longer applies. When walking away from a project you've enjoyed is the right thing to do?
There's plenty of snow on the ground, but I'm not sure ...
Happy New Year
The month of January is hobby month, and I decided to share my paper snowdrops because they're cheerful ... especially when photographed in the sunlight.
Turns out, snowdrops are also the flower of the month for January and, not surprising, they represent hope and rebirth. Excellent!
The flowers I make are the ones that capture my attention. It's that simple, really. There are no ulterior motives ... other than hoping I have the paper and supplies I need on hand ... and finding the instructions and tips I need to create them.
When I did the research on snowdrops, I held my breath, worried that the flower might symbolize something unfavorable. What then?
I was glad that the snowdrop represents hope and rebirth, but maybe I don't need to worry so much about it. Every flower I've researched has multiple meanings. Each one, in some way, symbolizes hope, love, and sorrow ... the very things life embodies.
Symbolism ... is it helpful or a hindrance?
Like flowers, the new year is full of symbolism ... endings and new beginnings, a fresh start.
Have you made resolutions? Yes. No?
Either way, maybe the best we can do is focus and apply ourselves to the things we want to create, do, or change; work at accepting what can't be changed; and in the meantime, pause to see the wonder that surrounds us.
The remarkable petals of a flower, the sound of the wind through the trees, the tears that come when you chop an onion, or the comfort found in a spoonful of warm soup when there's a chill in the air.
But most of all ... remember that starting or staying with something new is never easy, but persistence is key.
Happy New Year!
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The trouble with Angela Lansbury
When things appear to be stacked against you, think again
Since the death this week of actor Angela Lansbury, there have been tributes, articles, and stories about her life. Not surprising, given her decades-long career that touched generations of loyal fans.
She was an award-winning movie, television, and theater actor, as well as the voice of Mrs. Potts, the talking tea pot in the animated film, "Beauty and the Beast."
In reading and listening to the tributes, I was struck at how often her looks were mentioned. ... by her and others.
One article stated, "She may have lacked the classic good looks and voice of her era, but ...."
And another quoted Lansbury: "I wasn't very good at being a starlet," she said. "I didn't want to pose for cheesecake photos and that kind of thing."
Works for me, I don't like cheesecake.
And evidently, it worked for her.
By all accounts she was a successful and respected actor. But she was also passed over for roles and awards she hoped to win.
But she didn't give up.
It can be so easy to judge ourselves against the expectations of others. What's beautiful, who's pretty. Who has won awards, who hasn't.
And to think or worry that it matters.
It's hard to know how Lansbury really felt about her looks and how she was judged. But in the end, as she said, "I was a primarily an actress and not a pretty face."
She was an actor who wanted to act.
And she did that by taking roles that came her way. By doing the work. Because you never know where it might lead ... and because it may, as Lansbury said, "turn out to be the thing that will lead you to the role which is sublime."
I found all the commentary about Lansbury's looks discouraging. But now I see that in her willingness to talk about her looks and how she was perceived, she taught us something.
Whether you yearn to act, paint, write, cook, sew, sing, hike, run, or swim, focus on doing just that.
Ignore the naysayers ... and the looks and success of others.
Do the thing you want to do ... it's the best way to get to where you want to be.
It's hard being a beginner
Knowing takes time
When I placed the order for materials to make paper flowers, I had to wait a week for delivery.
It was disappointing, but I did what I probably wouldn't have done had the materials arrived sooner ... read the book I borrowed from the library (the whole book, not just a chapter here or a passage there, the whole book), watched some videos (thank goodness), and found lots of examples of what's possible with paper flowers. Amazing.
And then the paper arrived.
I waited until the next day to get started, suddenly seized by doubt and overwhelm. The anticipation was over, now it was time to do the work.
It's hard being a beginner
Deep in crepe paper with sticky fingers, glue on my clothes, and scraps of snipped paper all over the place, I found myself mired doubt. This might be too much, I told myself.
And I pouted ... wondering if it really was all too much.
But, after multiple breaks to wash the glue from my fingers, a lot of deep breaths, and three hours of concentration, I had my first flower. A white cosmos.
The finished flower was such an accomplishment. It's given me the incentive to keep going. To keep trying.
Eager to see how well I did, I took the paper flower up the street and nestled it in among the real ones growing on the corner lot.
I'm working on my second flower and feeling the same doubts ... is this worth it? Do I really want to pursue this? I'm not sure, but I do know what I need to do:
Give it time.
It would be easy to give up now. I'm frustrated and want quick results, but I know better.
It's a familiar feeling. The same feeling I get when I start writing ... this newsletter, a letter to a pen pal, and just every other writing project.
It's the feeling I got when I was painting room after room in the house these past few months. And so many other projects.
But I've learned: staying with it matters.
Is there something you're ready to bail on? Would it be better to hang in there a bit longer?
Sometimes, it is good to say, "Nah, I think I'm done." But other times, we just need to dig a little deeper, hang in a little longer.
After all, you never know how things might blossom ...
My second flower, the thistle, is a work in progress. The purple bits are too long, but I'm afraid to cut them. Afraid I'll cut too much and regret it. So I'm leaving it alone for a while. But I'm not giving up ... yet.
How to see beyond the squawking
Alarm bells sounded high and low, all around the pond. From a distance we heard the persistent screech of the blue jay, then the urgent squawk of a duck, and as we neared the pond, the bong-bong call of the frogs.
What, we wondered, was going on?
Stopping at the edge of the pond, we scanned the water, the trees, and the sky, listening and looking.
And then we saw it. A big owl, a Barred Owl (yes, we had to look that up when we got home), perched in a tree on the edge of the pond.
I'm not sure if the frogs were sounding an alarm, mating, or doing what frogs do, but the duck and the blue jay were visibly agitated. The ducked paddled frantically from one area to the next squawking all the way. The blue jay, in full screech with fanned tail, was swooping down at the owl ... from the left, then right, again and again and again.
But that owl.
Talk about composure. It flicked an ear and spun its head at the bluejay's aggressive fly-by graze, but otherwise it remained still. Focused.
Fascinating stuff ... and the final entry for the day in yesterday's good things journal:
3. the owl in the woods
I started the good things journal last month. A list of three good things I see, experience, do, or feel during the day. Every day.
It's a matter of semantics, really. Like me, you've probably seen the prompts to keep a gratitude journal (and maybe you already do), but somehow that never materialized for me.
Until I read about a "good things list."
It's simple. I keep a small notebook and pencil within ready, on a table in the living room. The idea is to make a list of three different good things you experience every day. Short entries, a few words each.
Here are some of the entries I've made (with the original numbering):
3. clean sheets
4. trip to the library
5. takeout pizza from Otto
2. raking the yard
1. the sun is shining
2. almond flour chocolate chip cookies
4. Wordle in two
1. a good night's sleep
2. got the laundry done
3. the own in the woods
Like the owl, despite the unexpected swoop of outside influences, I've remained focused.
One entry at a time ... on the good.
And yes, it feels good.
Sometimes I write one thing at a time as it comes to me during the day, other times I write my list at the end of the day. And more often than not, once I get started, I'll remember something and add that to the list, coming up with not just three, but four or five, sometimes six or seven good things about my day. Not monumental, over-the-top exciting things, but small pleasures that, in remembering and recognizing them, make it a better day ... today and tomorrow.
If you're working on a project, hang in there. Try something different. But most of all, don't give up. Give it time.
This cactus is my only plant. I'm fairly certain the only reason it survives is that it is a cactus and it doesn't need a lot of water. And that's a good thing, because I forget to water it.
All the time.
Dry as a bone when I take it down off the shelf. So I water it and talk to it and earnestly try once again to remember not to let it go so long.
It was a little starter plant when I brought it home. Just a few sprigs. But it was healthy. It blossomed and flowered ... and maybe even more than once a year, I think.
Is that possible?
When it grew too large for the starter pot, I re-potted it ... and then again when it outgrew that pot. It did well and continued to flower. Year after year.
Until it didn't.
It just stopped flowering and I don't know why. I talked to it, I paid more attention to watering and fertilizing, and did some research. But nothing. For years.
I tried moving it from one room to another, some with more light, some with less, but it never made a difference. Last year I put it in yet another location, high up on the top of a book case.
And something shifted.
It came back to life with a whole bouquet's worth of flowers. More plentiful, joyful, pink, and beautiful than ever.
Was it a fluke? Would it flower again? I wasn't sure.
It was not a fluke. It blossomed again this year with another round of fireworks ... new blossoms opening day after day.
I'm not sure what made it stop flowering, and I'm not sure what made it blossom again, but it reinforces the idea that we have to hang in there. Keep trying different things until something clicks.
Off to a good start?
Do you make your bed? I know my mother encouraged it when I was growing up, but it was my grandmother who found a way to make it happen ... and I think of her still when I change the sheets.
There was no pestering or pleading, she simply set the scene ... with new bedding. It was the best after-school treat I never imagined I might crave.
It was mid-afternoon when I arrived home from school and found the mismatched jumble of pillows, sheets, and blankets I'd left on the bed earlier in the day replaced with perfectly plump pillows and coordinated sheets tucked under a matching comforter.
I was spellbound.
Nothing but the bedding had changed, but there was new order to my small room, and I was all in.
The 11th of this month is Make Your Bed Day (get your calendar of days through the link below). Some do, some don't ... some only when company's coming. But there's evidence that suggests it might be a good idea. It was also a key point in Admiral William H. McRaven's popular commencement address delivered to the 2014 graduating class at the University of Texas.
"If you make you bed every morning," McRaven says, "you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another and another."
He goes on to say that even if you have a miserable day, when it's time for bed, you will be reminded that you did in fact accomplish something that day ... you made your bed.
I made mine. Did you? (Tucked or untucked?)
p.s. The same could be said for any project or goal you're working on. Try to work on it early in the morning, at the same time of day, or the same day every week. The routine/scheduling can help you move forward. Try it and let me know how it goes.
Flipping for Crossword Puzzles
Nineteen clues and my first symmetrical crossword puzzle.
I'm patting myself on the back, it feels like such an accomplishment!
What's the big deal? The black squares. If you were to flip the puzzle, the placement and number of the black squares on the top half mirror the placement and number of black squares on the bottom half.
Making the blocks symmetrical makes it more difficult to develop clues. Especially where two or three words run alongside or across one another ... like with clues three down, and four and seven across.
I've made word search puzzles and wanted to try the symmetrical crossword, but always gave up before getting too far. My mum loves a crossword puzzle, so this one's for her.
I hope you'll try it. Let me know if do, and I'll make another one.
You can download and print the puzzle (a one page sheet with the clues and answers(!) by clicking on the crossword image above).
At the end of the block on the corner there's a garden planted on the edge of the road. It's tucked between the street and a stockade fence. It's so small, and jammed into such a small space, it seems more than a garden. It's a declaration. A fertile sign of determination and grit.
Someone wanted a garden and they were not to be deterred.
They wanted to grow peas, and tomatoes, and peppers. We know that's what's growing because they impaled the empty seed packets on sticks to mark what was in the ground. And we've watch them grow for weeks now.
There's a tradition in New England ... peas and salmon on the Fourth of July. Why? The salmon swim upstream this time of year, just when the peas begin to sprout.
I'm not sure the neighbors will pair salmon with their peas, but the garden's bounty is proof there's plenty to be savored when the seed of determination is planted.
Figuring out what works Collage work has become my go-to art form. After trying a bit of watercolor, line drawing, pencil, and more, collage is it.
It's the perfectly imperfect nature of collage that works for me.
It's not that things are sloppy or unfinished. No, I pay attention to detail and form, but its more conceptual than precise.
Finding the rhythm
All of my collage work is done with painted sheet music. No other papers: no book pages, receipts, or found paper. Just sheet music.
That, too, took a while to figure out.
There are no distracting words on the page and I like how the music adds texture to the pieces I cut.
And I've learned it best to keep a supply on hand. A stack of painted sheets. An assortment of reds and yellows, blacks, grays, and greens. Blues, purples, and pinks. Each with varied amounts of paint, rough edges, and dry brush strokes.
Ready when the ideas are
If I have an idea, I like to sit down and start in. If I have to begin from scratch, to paint the colors I want or need, I risk losing some of my enthusiasm, some of the spark that comes with having a new idea.
Having an assortment of colors on hand helps me stay with the idea, to keep my momentum.
I've been running on scraps for a few weeks now and I can feel it holding me back. Little bits of paper cut from larger sheets. Yesterday I ran out of the green I wanted. Lots of scraps, but not enough to finish what I started.
It's time to take stock ... and restock.
Painting the sheets has become part of the process. Part of the preparation.
Be sure you've got what you need to get started. It could make all the difference.
A big sigh for DIY
Yesterday I became the reluctant fixer when the hose on the back of the dryer disconnected. I couldn’t get it reconnected and it started a string of lefty-loosey, righty-tighty missteps, YouTube videos, and a trip to the hardware store where a patient and far-more knowledgeable expert put and end to my cycle of frustration.
Are you handy?
Most of the time I would say I am. But truth be told, it depends when you ask.
Yesterday when I was in the middle of trying to attach that hose, I would have answered with a resounding no. Today, basking in the satisfaction of a job well-done (well, done anyway), I’m more likely to say yes.
It’s a truth most of us can relate to. Doing something for the first time comes with unique challenges:
The key of course of course is pushing through.
Though I wanted to give up, and nearly did, I knew it wasn’t an impossible task. Connecting a vent hose requires minimal tools and supplies ... there’s no rewiring of electricity or other element involved that would best be left to a professional. But I couldn't do it alone.
It took seven YouTube videos, two hours of trial and error, and two trips to two different hardware stores before I figured out what was missing and found what I needed:
A missing element and some guidance.
It also meant letting go. Of a quick fix, of all I had planned for the morning, of perfection, and frustration.
Though I won’t been installing dryer vent hoses on a regular basis, it’s a good, and constant, reminder that while there can be a quick fix here and there, it’s not the rule.
We’re better served, it seems, to recognize things will take more time and effort than expected. That frustration is part of the deal, and a little help from an expert goes a long way.
That even though what we’re trying to accomplish may not always be easy or fun, what we’re left is increased confidence, a bit more know-how, and a deep sigh of satisfaction.
Ideas for making the most of the time between the things you have to do for the things you want to do