Book Review: A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Cline

“I want each day to last forever . . . It’s a peculiar kind of dissatisfaction, a bittersweet nostalgia for a moment not yet past.

Inspired by the true story of famous painter Andrew Wyeth and the muse for his PieceofWorldpainting “Christina’s World,” this work of historical fiction ventures into the life of Christina herself. Struck by a degenerative disease at a young age that continued to worsen as time progressed, Christina spent most of her days on her family’s farm, struggling through the hardships of her physical challenges and the relationship challenges in both her personal and familial life. By the end of the story, one has a complete and insightful picture of the woman who became the subject of a piece of art that now hangs in MOMA in New York.

My favorite parts of this book are the ones that describe the simplicity of the sweeping landscape beside the ocean. It conjured images of Maine in my mind, though it’s a place I have never been. I loved the imagery of Christina and her mom venturing to the shore and collecting shells. The Hawthorne farm sounds like the foundation of a peaceful existence, though Christina’s struggles and the family hardships bring one back to a more realistic view of things.

Christina’s defiance of her condition as well as her strength to manage on her own are courageous. Her physical degeneration clearly takes a toll on her mentally and emotionally as well, though I came to realize that gradually, just as I imagine Christina realized it herself. She is determined not to let it affect her but it does anyway. While she wants so much for people to see past her ailment and see her for who she is, she struggles with the exact same thing.

It’s a beautiful but also tragic tale in many ways. I’m not sure I could have moved on so easily from the same missed opportunities in life. The end of Christina’s story however is a loving and satisfying one when she finally gets the thing in life she has always truly wanted. It’s a lovely and wistful book.

4 out of 5 stars

I Spy Something Green

Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. – John Muir

Hiking, sleeping, and eating – it was a way of life for three full blissful days. It had been too long since our last vacation, and my husband K and I were overdue for some time away from the obligations and routines of our daily lives. We counted down the days in anticipation, packed up the car, and then hit the road to Hot Springs, Arkansas!

Road trips are the best. I always pack an arsenal of things to keep me busy in the car onlyVersion 2 to spend most of the time gazing out the window and daydreaming. I felt substantially more relaxed just an hour after leaving town, and I think our dog Cora felt the same! Gradually I noticed that the roadside trees seemed to loom taller and glow a brighter green as we got closer to the national park. It was all we could see for hours as we drove down the highway, and I joked, “I spy something green!” That evening after arriving at the hotel, we ordered a giant cheesy pizza from room service and kicked back watching cartoons. We made it!

Version 2We kicked off our first full day in Hot Springs with an indulgent breakfast (a free perk of staying at Embassy Suites), me piling my plate high with biscuits and gravy galore! I had to fuel up for a day of hiking after all. As soon as we hit the trails in the national park, K and I were mesmerized by never ending waves of green. Everything was lush and in full bloom, and we trekked in silence for quite a while, simply enjoying this time together in nature. We hiked uphill and downhill, over rocks, and along well-traveled trails, getting lost in our thoughts and then stopping to take photos of whatever caught our eye and pulled us from our reverie.

Back at the hotel giggling at more cartoons, we drifted off to sleep, Cora included. I am not typically a nap taker, but I lapsed into a deep sleep that day and the following two days of vacation. I slept more than I have in a long time, and I felt more refreshed than I have in a long time as well. We dined out that night at Copper Penny Pub in downtown Hot Springs, inhaling our hot comfort food and enjoying a pint of the local brewery’s wheat beer (my favorite).

We spent the next day at Garvan Woodland Gardens, a botanical garden and natureVersion 2 preserve on Hamilton Lake. Cora was very enthusiastic about the koi pond, wishing with all her might that she could jump in and catch one! We also caught sight of a cute fuzzy chipmunk just before he skittered back to his home under a large rock. Again the waves of green stretched on forever and the brisk wind rustled through the trees creating a soothing soundtrack as we hiked, catching glimpses of the cool blue lake just beyond.

The main attraction of Hot Springs is of course, the hot springs. Historic bathhouse row downtown consists of a string of old bathhouses, some still operational as such while others have been converted into other attractions. Thus, our trip would not be complete without a trip to the spa. We relaxed in the thermal pools at Quapaw Bathhouse before venturing into the steam cave, a dry sauna designed to look like the old thermal caves used by Native Americans believing that the heat from the hot springs had just as much healing power as the waters themselves. It was K’s first sauna experience, and while I don’t think he’d do it again, I’m glad we got to do it together.

IMG_0554We also went to the Fordyce Bathhouse, which has been well maintained and now functions as a museum. Wandering those halls is like a trip back in time to the age when the bathhouses were a highly popular destination and both men and women spent all day there, relaxing and socializing. I loved the old tile floors. We had lunch at the Superior Bathhouse, which was converted into a restaurant and microbrewery that makes beer from the local spring water. It was delicious, and they also played the best music mix of 90’s grunge rock as a backdrop for our meal.

After spending so much time inside however, it was time to return to nature and trek through the forest on our last hike of the trip. It was warm and sunny, so the lizards and squirrels were out. The ticks were also out unfortunately and we spent a good deal of time pulling them off of Cora’s feet, but it was worth it. She had a great time, as did we. Once again we fell asleep that night watching cartoons and slept soundly until the next morning when it was time to pack up and return home.

The best things in life aren’t things – they are experiences. Taking a short vacation to experience nature in all its bright green glory and to spend a few days simply relaxing and enjoying life gave K and I renewed energy and vigor for when we returned home. We all deserve an escape now and then, and an escape into nature is always fun and satisfying.

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Book Review: The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

“Every two hours Michael Collins had gone out of radio contact for forty-eight minutes when the moon stood between himself and Earth, and during those minutes he was the most alone person in the history of people. Helen still liked to think about that. That had always been her dream: space, not a location within it, just space.”

WanderersHelen, Sergei, and Yoshi are accomplished astronauts chosen by private company Prime Space to embark on the first manned mission to Mars. As part of the initial testing and preparation, they must undergo a 17-month simulation of the expedition, during which the astronauts will face a series of challenges, but none are more challenging than those they face in their own minds. Meanwhile the loved ones closest to the astronauts struggle with their own challenges of facing the separation and figuring out who they are and who they want to be.

The publishers marketed this book as a cross between The Martian and Station Eleven. Readers who crave more of the former will be sorely disappointed. This book has little humor, minimal hard science and engineering, and no sense of urgency. Instead is has the slow and steady pace of introspection. It is much more a character study than a plot driven story.

Despite the slow pace, the writing kept me engaged. The characters were as much a mystery to me as they were to themselves, and it was interesting to experience them unfolding and eventually reaching a deeper sense of understanding, which made for a satisfying ending.

A major concept in the book is the idea that we have multiple versions of ourselves and that we consciously choose to show one face or another to in different situations. The astronauts struggle to put only their most capable and controlled selves forward as they are under constant observation and exist in very tight quarters. Their family on the outside tries to be who they think they are supposed to be, which increases their struggle to be honest and true to themselves. It’s a fascinating concept to me and one to which I relate.

The story presents an interesting juxtaposition of characters that prepare for the new exploration of a planet while simultaneously embarking on new explorations of who they are at their current points in life and in relation to others. Not much happens, but it is a lovely, imaginative, and clever book about the journey of human introspection and relationships.

4 out of 5 stars

 

A Place

Earth –

It’s a wondrous place, miraculous in its ability to foster and sustain such an abundance of life.

It’s a complex place where all life is connected, where every living entity, big and small, has a purpose in the cycle of change.

It’s a mysterious place we are still trying to understand but know to respect and cherish all the same.

It’s our home.

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In response to the weekly photo challenge: Earth

Bananas: A Crazy Dog

K came home from work and wandered into the kitchen absentmindedly, shuffling through the day’s mail, until he heard a squeal. He stopped and looked around but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Then he heard the squeal again. That’s when he noticed the lid of the trashcan had been knocked onto the floor.

K peered inside the trashcan, and there was our dog Haley. She broke into the trashcan, jumped inside, and then got her foot stuck and couldn’t jump back out on her own. Her look of happiness and satisfaction as K pulled her out of the trashcan said the whole ordeal was worth it. She would do it all over again if she had the chance.

I have referred to Haley as being bananas so often that it turned into a nickname, and – Version 2she responds to it. Other nicknames include but are not limited to Cray Cray, Little, The Buffalo, Poo Face, and Runt.

Don’t let the cute face fool you. Haley may be the smallest and oldest of our pack, but she is also the fiercest and the craziest. She is a JRT, a Jack Russell Terrier (or a Jumping Running Terrorizer). She is the stereotype for why many people do not adopt JRTs.

Here are some of Haley’s favorite things to do:

  • Tricking you into thinking she wants to cuddle with you when really she’s trying to steal food off of your plate
  • Growling at the other dogs when they come close to things that aren’t even hers but that she claims anyway
  • Being a creeper when you are behind a closed door. She lies on the floor and tries to look under the door to see what you’re doing and squeals at you.
  • Jumping into the air repeatedly until she successfully grabs hold of whatever is slightly hanging over the edge of the counter and pulls it down for further investigation and possibly consumption
  • Barking at every single animal or person she sees
  • Eating and/or rolling in poo, dead bugs, dirt, anything gross
  • Chasing the tennis ball or laser beam until she’s about to pass out from exhaustion
  • Snatching her roommate’s favorite toys and destroying them right in front of his eyes, simply to remind him that she holds all the power
  • Racing everyone from one end of the house to the other or from the yard to the dog door. Everything is a race.

Haley’s mom was a race competitor, and she raced even while pregnant. I imagine that to IMG_5743be the source of Haley’s enthusiasm and energy. As crazy as she is, she’s also smart, and like all of my dogs, she has taught me a thing or two.

Use your strengths to your advantage.
Our dog Sid is three times Haley’s size. He would wrestle incessantly with Haley, and Haley always lost simply because she was much smaller and lighter. That is until Haley figured out a new strategy. She would jet underneath Sid and nip at his back legs one after the other so fast that Sid had no recourse but to fall on the ground, at which point Haley jumped on top of him. Her small size turned out to be a good thing.

Live in the moment and do the things you love.IMG_6378
Haley runs when she feels like running. She savors the treat she has in front of her. She naps when it seems like the best idea. She sees poo, she rolls in it and then comes in the house and happily shows me how gross she is. She chases squirrels all over the yard. She sees something interesting, she barks at it. She does what she wants from moment to moment and truly enjoys life.

Show your love freely.
Haley loves with the same energy and ferocity as she does everything else. When people come over, she is beside herself with joy. She can’t wait for everyone to sit down so she can jump in their lap, climb up their chest, and lick them incessantly in the face while her tail happily spins in circles. She follows K everywhere he goes. When he comes home from work, she cannot rest until he lets her greet him property with cuddles and kisses. She lies next to me or in my lap at some point every single day.

Haley is a true force of nature and just had her 13th birthday on, no joke, April Fool’s Day. While she is showing signs of slowing down and her hearing isn’t quite at full function any longer, she continues to surprise us, make us laugh, drive us crazy, and share in our love every day.

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10 Easy Ways to Take 10

Vacations are the best. You get to travel to a distant place away from all the responsibilities and obligations of work and home. You get to take a break. It’s important to take a time out to relax and rejuvenate, but why wait until vacation? We face the stress of responsibilities and obligations every day, and we can easily take short breaks during our day to keep our stress levels at bay and prevent burnout.

Here are some things you can do for ten minutes every day to take a break and restore your energy and focus.

1) Drink a cup of hot tea or coffeetea-1778627_1920
I love the smell of a fresh cup of hot coffee. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Something about it energizes me. At work however, hot tea is my favorite way to take a break. I make a cup, sip it, and daydream for a bit. It’s relaxing, and I always feel healthier after I drink it. Plus, there are so many varieties! My favorites are mint tea (any kind) and Yogi Detox.

2) Go for a walk
Unless you have a job that requires physical labor or you are chasing little kids around the house all day, you are probably too sedentary. I get focused on a project at work and won’t move from my desk for hours. Getting up and moving around is a great way to clear your head. Go for a walk around the block or around your office building.

3) Read poetry
Poetry is easy to read and takes a minimal time commitment. Plus, it often inspires deep thought and creativity. It allows you to break away and think about something else, blond-1866951_1920giving you a new perspective in the process. There are hundreds of great poets out there. Explore and pick one you like. Barnes and Noble has pocket-sized poetry books, so you can take one with you wherever you go!

4) Sit outside
Nature beckons to us. It’s our element. Spend a few minutes away from the chaos of your day to sit outside, breath in the fresh air, and listen to the sounds of the leaves, the wind, and the birds. Just sit and listen and relax. When I work from home, on my breaks I often find myself sitting in the grass in the backyard with my dogs, enjoying the quiet and feeling the sun on my face.

5) Listen to music
Music is poetry with a melody. Listen to your favorites or listen to something new. Music has a magical way of changing my mood almost in an instant. I often stream Pandora at work to keep me motivated. It’s a great activity to combine with other things you want to do on your break. Turn on some easy-listening ambient or instrumental sounds while you sip your hot tea or go for a stroll.

6) Meditate
Meditation does not require a lot of time, and you can do it anywhere, especially with the guidance of meditation apps. I have heard great things about Headspace and Calm, but you can also listen to music while you meditate, or opt simply for silence. Sit in a comfortable position and try to concentrate only on your breathing or repeat an yoga1empowering mantra. It will help you to feel more balanced in minutes.

7) Yoga
Yoga does not require much time either. You can accomplish a lot of yoga in ten minutes. Focus on slowly stretching each section of your body. Flow through some of your favorite poses or do a series of sun salutations. Yoga calms me and clears my head much like meditation, but it’s easier in that I have something specific on which to focus. I use the app Yoga Studio. It has guided practices, but you also have the option to create your own.

8) Massage
I stored my stress in my shoulders and my back, as do most people I think. The stress of the day can leave me stiff and feeling uncomfortable, especially after sitting in an office chair all day or after my long commute. Massaging my shoulders and neck for a few minutes helps me relax and let go of the frustrations of the day. Massaging your feet works wonders as well.

9) Write/Journal
Sometimes we need a break because we cannot stop thinking about something, usually a problem or obstacle of some sort. That’s when journaling comes in handy. Take ten minutes to free write, meaning write down whatever it is that comes to mind. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Just get those thoughts out of your head and onto paper. You’ll feel better and be able to refocus.

10) Playdog-963971_1920
Never underestimate the power of playtime! Take a break from knocking out those tasks on your to-do list to play fetch with your dog. Build legos or color with your kids. If it’s just you, work on a puzzle, play a game on your phone, or draw or color. I started doing zentangle in which you draw pattern designs. Do something fun that serves no productive purpose.

The stresses of daily life can easily wear you down. Incorporating mini breaks, even 5-10 minutes at a time, can make a big impact in combating that. It’s important to make personal breaks part of our routine to manage stress levels and keep our minds clear.

What do you do when you need a moment to relax and refocus during your day?

93 Reasons: An Exercise in Gratitude

The psychology of happiness has become a popular field, and experts consistently tell us that a major key to creating happiness in our lives is through gratitude. The ability to appreciate what we have instead of fretting over what we don’t increases our sense of satisfaction and leads us to see the goodness in life more easily from day to day. It also makes obstacles seem less overwhelming.

I consider myself a thankful person, but I know that there is a depth to life of which I am not always aware, comprised of moments that wash over me without barely any recognition on my part. I wanted to experience a deeper sense of wonderment and gratitude towards my world.

I decided to take the experts up on their suggestion and focus on daily gratitude. They say to keep a gratitude journal and write down what you are thankful for every day, so I did. Every evening for a month I reflected on my day and wrote down three things that I appreciated.

The first challenge I encountered was simply remembering to do it, but I stuck with it. I aimed never to repeat the same thing and theorized this would be challenging as well, but almost immediately I noticed that my entries were not as general as I expected. Every day was very different when I looked at them close up, and it was never a challenge to avoid repeating the same subjects over and over when I focused on the details.

The question of what I was thankful for was harder to answer on bad days and I found myself sighing in frustration while staring at the blank journal page. But then I would realize the problem: my attitude. Sure, the bad parts of those days at first glance cast a shadow over my gratitude, but it was up to me to part the clouds and let the light shine through on my day. I simply had to change my focus.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

Inspiration: When it strikes, it’s a creative sigh of relief followed by a rush of excitement.

Music that moves me: I heard a song for the first time that stopped me in my tracks. I could do nothing but listen to it, captivated. The second time I listened to it, it moved me to tears. I’ve listened to it twenty more times since then.

Ghost stories: They are a fun indulgence for my imagination. They can be scary, funny, mysterious, and interesting. I love them all.

Unexpected hugs: I interviewed for a promotion at work and it was nerve-wracking. Afterwards, my co-worker gave me a big hug and told me she was proud of me.

Cozy sweatshirt: I bought this vintage-style soft sweatshirt on a whim and felt guilty about how much I paid for it until I wore it for the first time. I wear it almost every week now. It’s my favorite.

Mistakes: For the first time ever my local Thai food place got my takeout order wrong. The dish they made by mistake looked good though, and it was a dish I had never tried, so I told them not to worry about the error and accepted the food as it was. I ate the entire thing! It was delicious!

1980’s pop music: You have to dance! It’s happy and weird and fun, and the music videos are silly and ridiculous. An ‘80s dance club was the perfect choice for my cousin’s birthday celebration.

Strangers who make extra effort to help: When picking up my dog’s expensive epilepsy medication, the pharmacist showed me how to find an online coupon for the medication that cut the price in half. She even added the coupon information to my account so that the discount applied automatically for refills.

Spaghetti: Sometimes a big bowl of spaghetti bolognese with a glass of red wine is the perfect thing at the end of a rough day.

Challenges: They push me to see things in a new way and to think creatively to find solutions. I learn something with every challenge I face.

As the weeks passed, rather than waiting for the end of the day to reflect on my gratitude, I found myself recognizing those moments in the present and feeling thankful in real time. Some days I had five or six things I wanted to note in my journal. On those days the gratitude swelled in my chest and I felt overcome with emotion. More than once my eyes became teary with happiness.

Ultimately, keeping a daily gratitude journal works. Try it, and see what happens.

I wish for you an abundance of wondrous moments that fill your life and your heart with joy, that give you reasons to wake up and feel happiness every day. They are there already. We just have to be open to seeing them.

Photo via Visual Hunt