I do wander everywhere

I am a busy person with lots of interests, but I’ve recently been thinking a lot about what makes me the happiest. Walking is up near the top of my list. I love to get out and observe the world, and I enjoy the rhythm of the activity itself. In the last week I’ve seen tiger swallowtail butterflies, an urban garden that was new to me, and a bloom of jellyfish. I saw this and much more because I was outside to see it.

I live in Seattle and have been walking daily, so I tend to walk a lot of urban sidewalks in my quest for miles. I am trying to get in at least 10,000 steps a day so I’ll be able to walk for years to come. I find my activity tracker very helpful because I tend to walk more if I’m getting credit for it. It’s silly because the walk would benefit my body either way, but I walk extra just to see the step count add up. The mind is a tricky place.

I’ve also found another nifty tool to motivate my walk. There are a number of sites around the internet that allow you to virtually hike trails. You add your step counts, and the sites will show you where you are along the path. Some of the sites will even show you pictures of the places you’ve just walked. I’m currently walking a virtual trail in Vermont, and I’m really enjoying the view.

Fun walking sites for you to explore (click on the links to be taken there):

  • Walking for fun: This is the site I’m currently using. I plan to put a banner on the side of my site, and I hope it continues to update my mileage. The site has lots of different trails to walk. I started with a trail around Crater Lake, and I’m now walking the Long Trail in Vermont. I enjoy seeing my statistics add up and getting the little award badges. Free.
  • A virtual walk across the USA: The U.S. government has a site which allows you to walk from the West Coast to the East Coast. I haven’t yet tried it, as I feel like I should only virtually walk one trail at a time, but it looks fun. Free.
  • Walking with Attitude: This site has a lot of challenge maps and looks like it gives out some walking advice. It also has award badges and a social component, but this site isn’t free. It looks interesting, but right now not interesting enough for me to pay for it. Paid.

I’m doing all this walking with the eventual goal of a walking vacation in Yorkshire. This has been a goal of mine since I was small, and I want to be in shape for it when I can save up the money to go. In the meantime I’ll be enjoying the many benefits that walking brings. Perhaps I’ll see you out on the virtual trails.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
278. What makes you happy? How are you including it in your week? Make a plan. If you like walking, consider checking out the sites above.

Easy can be good

I’ve been really busy lately, but I’ve discovered some really useful strategies in the last few weeks which have kept me from dissolving into a hectic mess. I thought I’d share them here, because we can all appreciate it when life goes a little easier.

  • I started to use a crockpot. It’s not like I didn’t know about these, and I’ve had one for years that I’d gotten for free, but I have been oddly resistant to this simple technology and I’m not really sure why. I fired it up for the first time a few weeks ago on some lima beans, and now I use it every few days. Beans! Oatmeal! Rice pudding! Cabbage and potatoes! Recipes are easy to find online, and it’s nice to have my dinner cooking while I get my work done. I love it.
  • I have been streamlining my email. I have a Gmail account, but I hate it. I only use it when I need it for Google Docs, so I’ve never used the supposed wonders of its filtering system. I do use Hotmail (now called Outlook), and I recently realized I can make up rules that automatically puts current and future mail into folders. As new ads arrive, I send them and their friends into the ad folder. I look at it once a day to see if I need anything in there. Political email goes the same way. I now get only a few mails a day into my inbox. I feel so much less overwhelmed.
  • Salad in a jar. I have recently discovered this new food trend on the internet, and I have to stop myself so I don’t spend a lot of time gushing about it. You can find recipes all over the place, but the basic idea is that you can make a whole week’s worth of salads and put them in mason jars and just pull one out of the fridge every day for a fresh healthy lunch. It works. It’s yummy. I do this every week now.

I  am delighted to share these discoveries with you, just as I have been delighted to save my sanity. Perhaps you have some tips of your own. I’d love to see them in the comments, but right now I have a salad calling my name.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
277. What can you do to make your life easier so that you more time for the things you need to do and the things you enjoy? Try it out, and if you find a great tip, consider sharing it here.

Making lemonade

If you follow my blog you may have noticed I’ve been missing for a few weeks, and it’s true. I was not tired of writing, I was rather suffering a massive allergic reaction to cleaning chemicals. I’m still recovering, but getting better all the time.

I thought I’d write about that today, even though this is a blog about joy, because even joyful people do not have stress-free lives. I ended up going to the emergency room several times with swelling and my skin is still recovering from a feeling that feels like a bad sunburn. It’s been very worrisome as I tried to figure it out, but I’ve been able to make some lemonade out of the lemons, so I thought I’d share that:

  • Eating better: I gave up eating sugar years ago, but when I get stressed out I tend to eat lots of junk food like french fries and potato chips. I wasn’t sure what was causing this to start with, so I started stopped eating all processed food for a few weeks to try to feel better. It turned out not to be food-related, but I broke the cycle and am eating healthier than I have been.
  • Saving money: I seem to have reacted to two different chemicals, so I’m now back to cleaning with things like vinegar and natural soaps like Dr. Bronner’s. This will be less expensive over the long run, and there are less products to store. I’ll get a little bit more of a workout, too, and there will be less chance of poisoning myself in my own house.

You can’t always avoid life’s troubles. The car breaks down, the cat dies, you fall ill. You won’t be joyful all the time, either. If you were you would probably be repressing something. You CAN choose to make lemonade out of life’s lessons and find your blessings where you may. These are some of mine. How about you?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
276. Do you have a less than ideal situation in your life right now? Has anything good come of it? See if you can make some lemonade this week.

It’s time for recess

I have so many different sorts of things I could tell you about today, but I decided it’s time for us to sit upon the ground and tell joyful stories in the manner of children.

Why? Because adults often forget that they are allowed to have fun, even though it’s one of the chief joys of the universe. Fun is one of the things that sees you through, and allows you to be creative.

Today I’m going to share some fun and inspiring things from the land of children for you all. You don’t have to have children or even be fond of them. This is for you. I promise.

  • Sherlock does Sesame Street: Have you ever seen intense actor Benedict Cumberbatch in his role as the famous sleuth? He is the model of focus, but even he can let loose with the Muppets.
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon: There’s no need to get all your wisdom from Oprah. All you need is this kid’s classic and you’ll realize that you control your own destiny and you can design it as you go. It’s short but wise beyond its pages. You’ll even get to see a moose eat pie.
  • Neil Gaiman reading Green Eggs and HamBoth Neil Gaiman and Dr. Seuss were absent the day the memo went out that adults are supposed to be serious all the time. Listen to this for a smile.

You may feel you are too responsible to possibly take a moment out for this story time. I would argue that it would be irresponsible for you to skip it. The nap and the glass of juice afterwards are optional, but I’d recommend those, too. You’ll feel better after a little recess. I promise.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
275. When was the last time you took some time for a little play? Take some as soon as possible. Follow the links, blow some bubbles, or create your own magic. How was it? When are you going to do it again?

A man of peace

One of my heroes died yesterday, and I wanted to take this space today to share what I learned from him.

I first met Pete Seeger when I was 18 years old. He was singing at a rally to support the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, an organization he founded to clean up pollution affecting the Hudson river in New York. I grew up along the Hudson, and I appreciate his efforts towards the Clean Water Act and the saving of the Hudson itself.

I was very affected by meeting Mr. Seeger and seeing him sing. I was lucky enough to have that experience a number of times, because he lived and did a lot of his activism in my local area.

Here are some of the things that I learned from Pete Seeger that have stayed with me:

  • One person can make a difference, even if the problem seems insurmountable. If Pete and other volunteers hadn’t worked on environmental clean-up the Hudson would have continued to decline instead of getting better. In high school I didn’t follow the news or get involved in causes beyond writing. After I met Pete Seeger I started volunteering for political candidates and organizations I cared about, and I became a vegetarian–one person can make a difference.
  • Nice guys can get things done. The media shows us lots of examples of ruthless people winning, but Pete Seeger always seemed like such a kindly person–like a gentle grandfather. That didn’t stop him from being effective.
  • It’s okay to take an opposing viewpoint. For every liberal who sings his praises, there are plenty of other people who think Mr. Seeger was far too left-of-center. He taught me that it’s okay to hold and publicly express dissenting viewpoints, and indeed that it’s important to do so.
  • Music should be shared. I remember that first time I saw Pete Seeger perform. There were about twenty-five of us in a little park by the Hudson in Poughkeepsie. He had the audience sit around him and sing with him, getting us involved. One of the songs he sang that day was the old folk song She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comesand he had us add in different noises and gestures as the song went along. I learned that day that all forms of art are meant to be participated in, instead of just appreciated by observing. I’ve never forgotten that.

I am saddened by Pete Seeger’s passing, but I also celebrate his life–he lived to the fullest, staying involved even as he aged. He’s still inspiring me, and I hope he and his music continue to inspire for ages to come. I know I will never forget him.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
274. Who are your heroes? Take a few minutes this week to reflect on someone who has been important in your life. What lessons have you learned from your hero? Share some of these with someone else.

In which I ramble a bit

Today’s post being a post about poetry, friendship, and cat videos.

It’s all sort of connected, really. It’s been a weird sort of week with lots of things going on. I’m feeling joyful because last week I had a massive toothache, but I got the tooth pulled last Monday and it’s been getting steadily better all week. It’s amazing how much the absence of crushing pain makes one appreciate the normal state of affairs. I’m feeling grateful for a dentist who would work with me. Huzzah!

I’ve been experimenting with poetry. I’ve been writing lots of haiku, which you may know, and I’ve been trying adding some fiction elements to the form, partly as a way to experiment with plotting which feels like my writing kryptonite. I’ve committed to a story in haiku about a train journey. I add to it every day, and so far, so good. If I fail to figure out plot as I go the train will crash. It could happen, but the fact that I post it on a public page has helped me to face some of my demons. If you want to see where it’s going so far, you can check it out here.

I also had a grand time going to the cat video film festival. It was held at the Showbox theater, an enchanting Seattle venue full of faded glamour and elaborate chandeliers. It was also full of people who loved cat videos and we all had a great time. A nice blogger from the UW took my picture and that of my friend, and wrote up a fun article with links to some of the cat videos. The picture got into the slide show in the article. If you decide to take a peek,  I’m the one in the mohawk with the tiger cat ears and my friend is wearing a black kitty mask. It was a fantastic evening.

The film festival also got me thinking about poetry. I’ll lead you with me, and there we’ll stop. My favorite cat video of the night is one I hadn’t seen before. It’s called “Boots and Cats” and it’s an elaborate rhythm poem about two main things. I bet you can guess what they are… It’s amazing that something so simple has such an impact as poetry. I am still pondering it, and would recommend you view the video if you want to see something cool. It’s pretty nifty even if you don’t like either boots or cats.

The week was rich in experience although random in tone. I’m happy to make my own kaleidoscope out of the bits and pieces. What’s your kaleidoscope look like?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
273. Take a few moments to think about your week as a whole. What would you put on your highlights reel? What would you rather leave out? Did you discover anything new?

It’s not only for motorcycle maintenance

I’m a Zen girl, and lots of people really have no concept of what that means. Popular media would have you believe that Zen and other forms of Buddhism are really about “blissing out”–being peaceful and happy. Some commercials would have you believe it’s about the clothing you wear or speaking in a soft voice. This is not really true.

Zen is about reality and awareness, about paying attention every moment of every day and experiencing each moment as fully as possible. Zen is in the details.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was shaving my head. I’ve currently got a Mohawk hairstyle because it’s fun and because I like my hair really short. This also allows me to cut my own hair which appeals to my thrifty side. This is where the Zen comes in.

I use electric clippers, and I’m able to see around the Mohawk to cut around the edges of it. I can see parts of the front in the mirror, and I can check my work by holding several mirrors. Mostly, though, I need to pay very close attention to what I’m doing and do it by feel, especially in the back. This takes a lot of concentration, and I’m getting really familiar with the shape of my own skull. The more attention I pay, the less I have to fix when I pick up the extra sets of mirrors. When I slow down and focus everything becomes easier.

I thought I’d share this because one of the first places I learned about Zen practice was from a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It was really helpful to me, and I have never once tried to maintain a motorcycle. You may never shave your head, and you may follow a different faith, but you may also find a little bit of mindfulness adds a lot to your day. What can it hurt?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
272. This week, give one of your routine tasks your full attention. How did it feel? Did you end up doing anything differently?