Archive for the 'Happiness' category

The importance of doing nothing

Jan 31 2013 Published by under Happiness

24 hours?  I better take a nap

I love days like today, where there is nothing that I “have” to do, and I can focus on the things I want to do. I had a dentist appointment in the morning, and after that my calendar was completely open. No meetings, no deadlines, nowhere to go, and nothing to do.

Days like this are rare. I usually have something work-related going on every day, whether it’s teaching a yoga class, writing an article, or working at my part-time job.

Still, I take care to ensure that I don’t end up a victim of busy-itis. You know, those people who are always “soooo busy,” said as if it’s a badge of honor to never do anything except work, clean and shuttle your kids from one activity to another.

Being constantly busy is soul-crushing. We all need time to think, to rest, to simply be. Our culture, however, encourages incessant busyness. If you’re like me, you grew up hearing adults say thinks like “Idle hands are the devil’s playground” and “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

As a writer, I need time to daydream. I cannot simply summon good ideas at a moment’s notice. Yet, when I worked as a writer for corporations, it was often expected of me to do exactly this. Sitting quietly and thinking were perceived by others as me goofing off.

At one of my previous jobs, a coworker told me that an executive remarked in her team’s meetings on more than one occasion, “What does Cheryl do all day, anyway?” as if writing content for product packaging, brochures, the company website, and the like all just happened on its own. I was soon laid off from that job. I suspect the other executives eventually agreed that writing is easy, takes very little time, and that anyone can do it.

In a way I’m thankful, because not long after that I found the courage to take time out from my own busy schedule to really think—dream—about what kind of life I wanted, and I started working toward that goal. I earn less than half the salary I used to make at that corporate job, but I am infinitely happier.

I know I’m very fortunate. Some people don’t have the luxury to worry about anything other than finding their next meal or shelter from the cold. I also have a wonderfully supportive partner who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I don’t take any of these things for granted.

If you have a decent job and a roof over your head, give yourself permission to do nothing on occasion, to goof off, to be idle. Here are some of my favorite ways to recharge my batteries.

  • Take a nap
  • Watch a marathon of a favorite TV show (Bones, anyone?)
  • Experiment with recipes
  • Walk the dog
  • Play a game (I’m loving Candy Crush Saga these days, and Scrabble is a perennial favorite)

What are your favorite ways to not be busy?

Have something to add? Please, leave a comment with your thoughts. If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Peculiar Girl or share it on Twitter or Facebook.

Image by mike@bensalem on Flickr.



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Scenes from a morning walk

Jul 11 2012 Published by under Happiness

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
~Writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders

The idea of living in the moment to experience greater happiness isn’t new. The Saunders quote above was written in 1957. In 1827, poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If a man examine carefully his thoughts he will be surprised to find how much he lives in the future. His well-being is always ahead.” Going back much further, the benefits of mindfulness, meditation, and non-attachment are the central teachings of Buddhism, which dates back to 542 B.C.

Presumably wise (even enlightened) people have been extolling the virtues of living in the moment for centuries. So why isn’t everyone doing it? Because it’s hard. Really, really hard.

The human brain is always busy—trying to solve problems, make sense of the past, or predict the future. Learning to focus on the present moment and stop the internal “noise” is a skill that requires much practice.

Yoga is helping me hone the skills I need to be more mindful and aware in my daily life. I’ve been practicing Hatha yoga regularly for only a few months, but I already notice a positive difference. I am more in tune with my feelings, with my body, and with my environment. I am enjoying these benefits so much, in fact, that I’ve decided to become a yoga instructor. My 200-hour teacher training certification course starts later this month.

So today, on my daily walk with Romeo, I tried an experiment. Rather than let my mind wander as I usually do, worrying about all the things I “need” to do before the day’s end, I opted instead to work on being present in the moment, enjoying my relationship with my dog and appreciating my surroundings. Here are some of the highlights.

We haven’t had any real rain since May. I was glad to see I’m not the only one who’s lawn looks like this.

The only thing thriving in this hot, dry weather are the weeds. Check out this giant thistle!

Let’s get real about what happens on dog walks.

I almost never see trash lying around the neighborhood, so this came as a surprise. I briefly lost my connection to the present moment and hearkened back to the 70s, when people hardly thought twice about tossing trash out of the car window. What the heck were we thinking?

Hibiscus are one of my favorite flowers. I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed these beauties before today.

There are so many pretty gardens in our neighborhood. This is one of my favorites. It’s full of unexpected objects, like this bit of iron fence.

I’m not sure, but I think this is a mulberry tree. It makes a terrific purple mess all over the sidewalk. I rather enjoy tracking through the mashed up berries. Romeo likes to eat them.

This is a gigantic hosta that’s at my head-level as we walk by. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

I couldn’t get a better shot without walking into this neighbor’s yard, but if you look closely you can see an over-sized coffee cup used as a planter on the table. Also, a statuette of a pig with wings. Someone has a wonderful sense of whimsy.

These are popping up all over town. Little Free Library seeks to promote literacy and a love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide. Have you seen them in your neighborhood?

Romeo nibbles on some green grass, which is a rare find these days.

We had a lovely walk. By consciously trying to keep my mind in the present, I noticed things I hadn’t noticed before, and felt more relaxed than usual. Many days I admit I’m urging the dog to hurry up so I can get back to work.

One thing I wonder, is if stopping to take a picture is removing myself from the moment. I have a friend who never takes pictures on vacation, because he feels like if he’s using his camera, he isn’t experiencing the present. What do you think?

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Are you a city person or a country person?

May 23 2012 Published by under Happiness

Last Saturday afternoon Tom and I went to a wine tasting at Heartland Farm Sanctuary, which is where the photo was taken. (Those are llamas in the background.) The tasting was sponsored by Whole Foods Market in Madison, and the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful. Heartland had set up a tent on the sanctuary grounds, overlooking the barn and rolling hills of Verona, Wisconsin.

We sampled several delicious wines, paired with fruit, chocolate, and cheese (for the non-vegans). As we sat there, enjoying the weather, the wine, and the scenery, I mentioned to Tom that sometimes I can see myself living in a place like that. We have both always considered ourselves city people, but had to admit there is something special about having that much wide-open space.

Here’s a picture of Tom awaiting his first taste of wine:

Tom at Heartland Farm Sanctuary wine tastingAfter the tasting, we got a guided tour of the barn, and fed our leftover fruit to some of the animals. Apparently, goats love strawberries. Who knew? I also got to meet one of Heartland’s newest residents, Lola the miniature pig. All I can say is, I am in love. If we lived in the country, maybe we could have a Lola of our own!

I grew up in the country. My parents have eight acres of land, complete with a spring-fed pond that attracts tons of wildlife, including cranes, otters, muskrats, herons, geese, ducks, and the not-so-cuddly animals like snapping turtles, snakes, and leeches.

I’ve never been a play-in-the-mud kind of girl, so I didn’t truly appreciate my country surroundings when I was growing up. I often felt isolated from my friends, who lived farther away than I could bike, and we were 20 miles from the nearest “big” city.

Not that it was all bad. Far from it. I had a lot of good times in the country: ice-skating on the frozen pond in winter, playing with the dogs, making forts in the woods with my brother and sister.

But when I grew up, I was drawn to the city. I wanted to live in the heart of things, and be close to friends, entertainment, and dining. I enjoy being able to walk or bike to my favorite restaurants, and if I need something from the grocery store, I can get there in back in 20 minutes.

Tom and I sometimes talk about moving to a condo downtown when we get older. No gutters to clean, no driveway to shovel, no grass to cut. As long as we had a terrace for planting a few vegetables and herbs, I am completely on board with this plan.

But then I have a day like last Saturday, and I wonder if maybe I am a country person — at least partly.

Are you a city person or a country person?

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What’s on my kitchen table?

Apr 13 2012 Published by under Happiness

Two weeks ago I wrote about coming to terms with my less-than-stellar housekeeping skills and my plans to hire a housekeeper. (She starts Monday, by the way.) Your comments and support made me so happy, and I realized I am far from alone in my struggles to keep a clean house. One of my biggest challenges is keeping the kitchen table from becoming a dumping ground for mail, recent purchases, and unfinished projects. It could be a nice spot to have breakfast, if we could keep it cleaned off. The photo above was taken just a few minutes ago.

I’m a visual person. Out of sight, out of mind is very true for me, so I tend to use my kitchen table as a visual reminder of the things I need to do. The problem is, all that clutter creates stress. I can’t stand looking at it. I need a better system, and I hope having a housekeeper take care of the bigger chores will allow me time to tackle the smaller ones, like the kitchen table.

So let’s take a peek at my kitchen table chaos, and inside the peculiar workings of my mind.

On this side of the table is the vertical file I bought to organize our mail (heh), the wooden pineapple dish I bought at a thrift store as a place to keep our keys and lip balm, and my yellow purse atop a stack of mail that doesn’t fit in the vertical file.

The red and green things are outdoor lanterns I bought at the thrift store. They each hold a tealight candle, and I thought they would brighten up the yard. The problem is, I haven’t had a chance to get the yard set up for spring and summer yet, so the lanterns have been sitting on the table for two weeks. I suppose I could put them in the garage, but I’m worried I’ll forget where they are.

The silver metal spiral thingy is (I think) a garden ornament, also purchased at a thrift store. I’m not one to clutter my yard with whirly gigs, gazing balls, and statues of Dutch children kissing, but I think a touch of whimsy here and there is nice. That said, it’s too early to plant my annuals, so at the moment the silver ornament has no place. Moving on…

In this next section is a carved wooden photo album I bought at Goodwill yesterday. It says “Hawaii” on the front and holds 100 photos. I’ve been meaning to put our Maui honeymoon photos into an album, so I just had to buy this. I already uploaded the photos to I plan to order the prints today and get the album organized this weekend. Under the album is more mail, some receipts I need to save for tax purposes, and what looks like the weekly flyer from the grocery store. Next!

There’s an offer from AT&T advertising free smart phones in there, which I saved because I’m considering trading in my iPhone for something less expensive. The silver canisters are meant for spices. They have magnets on the bottom. I bought them at a thrift store for 39 cents each and intend to use them for my office to organize paperclips, tacks, and other small things. I just need a magnetic board, so I left the canisters out to remind me to buy one.

Beside them you’ll see a few copies of this week’s Isthmus, in which I have an article titled What’s not to like? Five Madison tofu dishes to win you over. I need to move these to my office where I have a file to save clippings of my work. Hmm, I see some rewards cards there. There isn’t room in my purse for all of the cards I have so I need a better system for keeping track of those.

There’s also paint brush in the pile, which I used last weekend when I was working on staining our fence. It’s clean, and I’m not doing anymore staining in the near future so I really should put it away. I also see what looks like a CD. I’m not sure what that is or why it’s on the table.

This last section is a real mish-mash. You can see another view of the garden ornament, which reminds me I need to get the price tag off of it. (That’s one negative about thrift stores, sometimes the price tags are stuck on in really annoying ways and almost impossible to remove.) I see some address labels there, which should be in the vertical file with the mail and stamps. Hmm, there’s a pay check stub from Isthmus, an adorable thank-you card I received from a client, a battery charger that I used recently but really belongs in a drawer, and some paperwork that needs to be filed.

My food processor broke and had to be tossed (Madison actually accepts small appliances for recycling), but I thought perhaps I could donate the attachments, which is why those are sitting there.

Those blue rubber bands are the kind that come on broccoli. I don’t really understand why broccoli requires bundling. Does anyone know? I have a ton of these, and don’t really need to keep them. I put them on the table to decide if they are worth donating. I hate throwing things out if someone else might have a use for them. There’s also a white spring-loaded drawer divider sitting in the donate pile. I re-organized the kitchen a few weeks back and no longer need it. As often as I go to the thrift store, you’d think I’d remember to take those with me and donate them, but I always seem to forget.

In the back corner is the blue ceramic bowl my brother made. That’s where we toss our spare change. It’s one of the few things that actually belongs on the table.

So there you have it. An explanation of what’s on my kitchen table. Do you have an area that seems to be perpetually cluttered?

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Confessions of a terrible housekeeper

Mar 28 2012 Published by under Happiness

Week 12 - Dust Bunny Large Enough To Have a NameI’ve always been messy.

In elementary school, I had a messy desk. It was jam-packed full of papers in no particular order. My pencils and crayons were all over the place, rolling around with empty gum wrappers, barrettes, and other miscellaneous doodads. It didn’t bother me, but it sure seemed to bother my teachers.

Teachers saw my messiness as a personality flaw that needed correcting. You know…a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, and all of that.

Once, a teacher dumped the contents of my desk onto the floor, in front of the entire class, apparently hoping shame and humiliation would transform me from messy to neat. It didn’t.

Over the years my messiness cost me two roommates, garnered disapproval from a few bosses, and was at the root of some epic fights with my OCD ex-boyfriend, before we were exes. He thought I was being messy on purpose, just to piss him off. Seriously, dude, sometimes a pretzel on the floor is just a pretzel on the floor.

So fast-forward to today. I’m married to a wonderful man who also happens to be messy. Together, we create a fantastic tornado that leaves jackets draped over chairs, shoes on the floor, empty glasses on the coffee table, and clothes on the bedroom floor.

He has certain habits that bother me, like leaving cupboard doors open and squeezing the toothpaste tube from the middle. And I have habits that bother him, like letting clean dishes air dry instead of toweling them and putting them away immediately.

Tom and I both work full-time. We divide the housework evenly, and we do a pretty good job with the basics: dishes, laundry, vacuuming. On the weekends we take care of some of the bigger stuff, like the bathrooms. Still, it always feels to me like we’re barely keeping our heads above water.

The biggest difference between us, I’ve noticed, is that Tom doesn’t feel shame and guilt about messiness like I do. I realized that I’ve internalized those old messages from teachers, roommates, bosses, and exes. They all felt my messiness was a flaw that must be fixed, and I believed it.

There are plenty of things I’m not good at. So why have I spent more than 40 years feeling ashamed of this one thing (messiness) and not others? I think there are a few reasons.

First, I definitely have perfectionist tendencies. Perfectionism is a happiness killer, which I wrote about in How do we know when we are doing our best?

Second, keeping a clean house is something women are expected to do, culturally speaking. Tom and I do what we can to keep the house somewhat presentable. Still, I feel the pressure to do more, lest I be judged as an unfit wife. An unfit woman.

I tell myself if I were only more disciplined, if I just put my mind to it, our house would always be clean. It never occurred to me, until recently, that I was being unrealistic. I have been judging myself harshly, rather than showing compassion, and loving myself as I am.

I have a messy desk, but that doesn’t mean I’m disorganized. I like having all of my projects out where I can see them. I do my job well, and I get my work done on time.

If I take my shoes off in the living room, they might sit there until the next time I want to wear those particular shoes. It doesn’t make me a bad person.

Our house may be messy sometimes, but it isn’t a health hazard. We don’t have dead cats buried under piles of decades-old rubbish (OMG did you see that episode of Hoarders?).

The time and energy it would require to keep the house clean all the time would take time and energy away from other things I value as important in life. I am not willing to make that trade-off, and that’s OK.

Yes, I would like our home to be cleaner. However, I am longer going to put the pressure on myself to make that happen. I’m taking all that shame and guilt and tossing it right into the garbage. My new attitude?

Fuck it. I’m hiring a housekeeper.

What about you? Do you see messiness as a sign of laziness? Are you a clean freak? Please, leave a comment and help start a discussion.

Photo by KimCarpenter NJ on Flickr

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