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The Ways to Be Happy

October 2, 2015

Sophie and I have a bedtime tradition. Every night, after her teeth are brushed, pajamas on and she’s tucked in bed, I ask her the same question I’ve been asking since she was very little.

What’s your favorite thing you did today?

The only “rule” we have when answering the question is you can’t say, “everything.” You have to name at least one specific thing or event that made you happy. Sometimes Sophie tells me it was going to the park after school, or making plans to get frozen yogurt the next day. Or it may have been going to school seeing her friends.

And then I answer the same question.

My favorite thing isn’t always related to Sophie. It could be a writing win, or making a tasty dinner. Sometimes my favorite thing is watching Sophie quietly read a book on her own. Even on the days where I feel the worst, sometimes the only thing I can think of is picking Sophie up from school and seeing her smiling face when she sees me. Even if the rest of the afternoon goes to hell, it’s that moment I remember at the end of the day when we recite “favorite things.”

Sophie depends on our little tradition as part of her nightly routine. She always says, “We need to do favorite things!” I love it because  it reminds us both that even on the worst of days, we can always find at least one thing that brought us joy.

I recently came across this blog post, in which the writer talks about what happiness means to her. Abby, the author of said post, writes:

Happiness is one of those concepts that can easily become vague and elusive. Ask anyone what they want out of life, what they want for themselves and their kids, and more often than not, you’ll hear, “I just want to be happy” or “I just want them to be happy.” But what does that actually MEAN? And how do you actually DO it?

Abby’s words – coupled with hearing Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Don’t Need Much to Be Happy – got me thinking about the things in life that bring me joy. I started keeping a list of those things, and I began to notice that when I wrote down the items or read the list, I felt calmer; happier.

I also realized that, with the exception of a few, the items I wrote down were not things in the sense that I spend money to acquire them. They are simple acts and experiences. This is so important to remember because as we all strive to feel happy, making an effort to consciously focus on the simple things that we control can change our mindset.

pumpkin and sunflowers

Here are a few things that make me happy:

  • Sleeping in and waking up naturally
  • Pumpkins
  • Walking my dogs at dusk and early evening
  • The little notes Sophie writes me
  • Lazy weekends when I curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and read all my saved blog posts from the prior week
  • The sound of rain
  • My husband’s corny puns
  • Working in my office with my dogs laying on the floor around me
  • When the hot early morning air starts turning cold, signifying that fall is on its way
  • Sidewalk chalk drawings
  • Late nights when everyone but me is asleep and I stay awake in my quiet house watching television or writing on the computer (case in point: writing this blog post)
  • The first few sips of a freshly-cracked open can of cold Diet Coke when I’m feeling particularly parched
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter’s guitar playing and hauntingly-beautiful voice
  • Watching Sophie sleep at night with Tess the cat curled up next to her
  • A cool breeze on a warm summer night
  • The excitement of a new project
  • Laughing so hard that I cry
  • Staying up late, binge-watching a new television show with Bryan
  • Butterflies
  • Watching a favorite movie I’ve seen dozens of times
  • Bright sunflowers
  • The first night of flannel sheets on my bed
  • Watching Sophie play with kids at the park after school
  • Halloween
  • Little kid Valentines that are passed out in class
  • Books! (especially when free books arrive in the mail)
  • A great piece of writing that makes me say, “Yes! I know EXACTLY what the writer means!”
  • Turning the calendar to a new month
  • Finding a new band or musician and continually listening to their songs
  • Watching The West Wing reruns
  • Christmas music and holiday lights
  • Watching Sophie and Bryan together
  • Riding in my car at night with the windows open, listening to music
  • Walking home with Sophie after school and our “walk home” chats
  • The smell of the perfect burning candle
  • Getting lost in a good book and finishing it within two days
  • Summer evening dinners, eating al fresco on backyard patio with Sophie and Bryan
  • Fourth of July fireworks and patriotic music
  • The feeling after I’ve completed a really great piece of writing
  • Watching Sophie and her cousins play together (knowing they are my sister’s kids)
  • The first day of school
  • The perfect slice of homemade fluffy lemon cake with whipped cream and lemony frosting
  • Browsing through bookstores
  • Chinese food from my favorite childhood neighborhood restaurant

I could go on … and in fact, I plan to continue my happiness list because I hope, as I get older, it will only continue to grow.

Have you ever written down the things that bring you joy? I would love to know what’s on your list! Share a few items with me!

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Monday Musings ~ September 28

September 28, 2015

It’s the last Monday of September. What happened to the month? Can you believe it will be October later this week?!

TJ Pumpkin Loot

1. This is the time of year when I tend to go a bit pumpkin-crazy at Trader Joe’s (see above photo). It’s also the time when I have to put a moratorium on entering Bath and Body Works. The pumpkin item you will not see me partake in, however, is the Starbucks Pumpkin Space Latte. Not a fan!

2. I’d love it if you hop over to Huffington Post Parents and check out my latest post, “In Defense of the Reading Log,” where I fully expect parents who despise nightly required reading will now turn that hate toward me.

3. We just returned from Mickey’s Halloween Party at the Happiest Place on Earth. Considering how much I love this holiday, I feel so fortunate to be able to visit Disneyland during Halloween. I love checking out all the festive decor and pumpkins carved throughout the park. Disneyland is a magical place by itself; but throw in Halloween, and it’s pretty incredible.

This visit was different from our other trips because Sophie wanted to ride every roller coaster in both parks. Forget Dumbo, Tea Cups and the King Arthur Carousel. This time was all about Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad and California Screaming (and several others thrown in for good measure). I was so proud of her — she did them all! I do NOT do roller coasters. So I enjoyed trick-or-treating around the park, attending blogger events, and admiring the surroundings. The only rides I went on (which were the ones I wanted) were Haunted Mansion Holiday, the new and improved Peter Pan’s Flight, Radiator Springs Racers (Cars Land) and my new favorite ride, Soarin’ Over California. It was a really nice visit.

4. Speaking of Disneyland, have you seen this two-part American Experience: Walt Disney documentary on PBS? It was such a fascinating look at Walt Disney, and how his animation, movies and Disneyland came about. I have so much to say about him and his legacy (and how they personally affect me), which I will save for a future post. But after watching this, it’s clear how Disney and his legacy has left a mark on all of us. Even if you’re not a big Disney fan, I highly recommend watching the series.

5. What do you think about this article about the Facebook memories feature? It talks about how many people do not like to be reminded of what the past (and don’t want Facebook to remind them of photos they posted in year’s past). I use the Timehop app, and check it is one of the first things I do when I get on my iPhone in the morning. I love and looking back at what I was doing this day each year. But then again, I’m also the type that keeps all her old paper planners and enjoys going back into my Google calendar and see what I was doing last year. What about you?

6. I loved this article about how a trip to Ikea inevitably leads couples to fight. I wrote a similar post about this exact subject a few years ago (Never Plan a Trip to Ikea on Your “Day of Fun”). And it reminds me of that 30 Rock episode where Liz was determined to buck the odds that a trip to Ikea would not ruin her new relationship. Liz and I were on to something way before The Atlantic published its piece.

What’s going on in your life? Are you excited fall is here? Do you hate Ikea or the Timehop app? Are you a Disney fan? Tell me what you’re musing about this week!

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Monday Musings ~ September 21

September 21, 2015

Happy Monday, and welcome to Monday Musings!


1. So the big news in my life is that my computer crashed last week. I’m not telling you this to get your sympathy. I was preparing for it for some time. All of my files and photos were backed up (learned that lesson the hard way). I got a new iMac with a huge screen and, honestly, I don’t know how I lived without this screen before!

2. ‘Tis the season for apples! If you’re looking for apple desserts, I complied all my apple baking recipes into this post last year. Enjoy!

3. I recently made coffee and donut ice cream, a recipe in my Seriously Delish cookbook, written by the author of one of my favorite blogs, How Sweet Eats. And yes, it was as good as it sounds. But let me say this: The recipe called for cake donuts and I had a tough time finding regular cake donuts at the grocery store. Do they not sell those rectangular boxes of plain Entenmann’s cake donuts anymore? Likes those you’d see next to a pot of Folgers coffee in a 80s television cop shows? Because sometimes you just need a plain donut!

And speaking of donuts, that photo above has nothing to do with the ice cream. They were my birthday gift to Bryan, who prefers a classic rainbow sprinkle cake donuts than actual cake.

3. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while know that I LOVE The West Wing. I watched it when it was first on the air and have probably seen the episodes hundreds of times. I still watch them when I need a pick-me-up. I own all seven seasons on DVD, which I acquired before Netflix (and you never know when they will disappear from the lineup). Anyway, I saw this article about 13 times Toby Ziegler was you at work. While I always thought of myself as more of a Josh Lyman type, this article is spot on!

4. Speaking of The West Wing, I cannot wait to see the Steve Jobs biopic. Aaron Sorkin is one of my favorite writers (see #4 above). We never see movies in the theater anymore, but I guarantee we will see this one.

5. Bryan recently came up with a list of television shows he wants to binge-watch. We compared lists and suffice it to say none of our shows were on each others’ lists. Bryan likes SciFi and aliens. I like crime and drama. We did manage to both want to watch Narcos on Netflix. It’s interesting, but I keep expecting Johnny Depp from Blow to walk through a scene. Have you watched Narcos?

6. I say this ever year, but I really want cool, fall weather! It’s been so HOT the last few weeks in San Diego. Historically September and October are warm months, and I just hate it because I want to wear something other than a sleeveless top and shorts to go apple picking. We don’t have central air conditioning either. I know many of you that live in other parts of the country will laugh at my complaining. But here’s the thing: We Southern Californians aren’t prepared for this heat and the humidity of late. If the temperature gets below 70 degrees – and actually rains – the local news starts each broadcast with a “STORMWATCH” headline. And if it gets above 88 degrees, it’s “HEATWAVE.”

What’s going on in your life? What’s the weather like? What are you watching and eating? What are you musing about this week?

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From “Paris” to “Sunshine” ~ Two Book Recommendations for You

September 17, 2015

It’s time for a few book recommendations, shall we? I’m sharing with you two very different books, but both stellar in their own right.

image001First up is The Paris Key, by Juliet Blackwell.

Here’s a bit of background on Juliet and her story: Author Juliet Blackwell fell in love with Paris the first time she laid eyes on the City of Lights. She first visited France as an exchange student in Spain. Since then, Juliet returned several times as a tourist and twice rented a house in the countryside for long stretches to learn the language and to write. During one of her longer stays two years ago, Juliet discovered Village Saint Paul, a “fairytale-like” neighborhood where she stumbled upon a dusty old locksmith shop. Charmed by the elderly shopkeeper who invited her to stay for tea, Juliet spent a lovely afternoon discussing the history of keys and locks. Over the course of the afternoon his granddaughter joined them and neighbors dropped in. And inspiration struck!

Juliet decided then and there that her next novel would be set in a Parisian key shop. The story is set against a lush Parisian backdrop and is about Genevieve Martin, an American woman in Paris who is faced with the incredible opportunity to take over her late uncle’s locksmith shop. Throughout the novel, Juliet beautifully describes Paris’s art, architecture, and vibrant street life in a way that will leave readers feeling like they have absorbed the sights, tastes, and culture of Paris firsthand. A touching story unfolds of a woman who must learn to open herself up to life– to new experiences and friends and love—in a city that holds secrets about her family that could change her forever.

My own opinion: I have never been to Paris. But while reading this book, I could see myself there. I love how she wrote Paris in a way that almost made it another character in the novel, and how she wove it in this beautiful story and mystery. I don’t want to give away the mystery, but it was a great read that I’d recommend if you want something that’s not too heavy but also has substance.

my sunshine awayThe other book I had to share with you is My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh.

This novel could not be more different from The Paris Key, but it was beautifully written and the characters were so life-like to me. Here’s the description: The story unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when 15-year-old Lindy Simpson–free spirit, track star, and belle of the block–experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too. 

M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

My own opinion: His writing and this story reminded me of some of my favorite books by Andre Dubus III, Joyce Maynard and Myla Goldberg. The sense of place and time were written so well that I felt like a character in the novel (partly because the narrator is my age during the story’s timeline). The characters are not heroes or heroines in any sense. They are flawed and so real, which is why I felt so deeply for them. This was not the most uplifting story (that is not a criticism), and it’s certainly not a “light” read. But if you enjoy books that are very character-driven with a strong sense of place and time, I recommend My Sunshine Away.

Have you read either of these novels? What are you reading now? What do you recommend?

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Remembering September 11 ~ 14 Years Later

September 11, 2015

Every year on September 11, I take time to consciously remember what happened on the day that changed America forever. Here is my account of that day, part of which I originally wrote on September 11, 2010.


It seemed like any ordinary day.

Nothing was different. No phone calls to our condo. The alarm went off to the annoying buzzing sound that it did every morning (the only way that I’d get out of bed).

Bryan left the house before 6 a.m. since Tuesdays were his early-morning day to teach spin class at the campus gym.

I got into my car around 7:40 a.m. to drive myself to work at San Diego State University. I got in the car; started the ignition; and turned on NPR, just like any other day.

But it was not like any other day. Something was different. I could tell in an instant.

I knew something dreadful was happening the minute I heard the NPR reporter. I just started driving to work waiting for information.

The reporter started talking about smoke, airplanes, confusion, towers, the Pentagon.

What was I missing?

Then I heard two words that I never much heard before on NPR. But I would hear so many more times – “terrorist attack.”

“WHAT?! What is happening?!”

I was shouting out loud to the radio, in my car alone. I was starting to panic. I had no idea what was going on in the world at that moment. I was already on the freeway; so couldn’t turn back to home and turn on the television. I just drove to work; trying to get to my office as fast as possible.

As I was on the freeway, the announcer finally started to recount what happened to the World Trade Center and Pentagon that morning. I was in utter and complete shock. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t even cry at the time. I just drove with my mouth hanging open.

I sprinted to my office, turned on my computer, and by that time, nobody was doing any work. All anyone could do is listen; and watch; and talk to each other in utter disbelief.

While we now have an exact timeline of what happened that morning, at the time we didn’t know what was fact or fiction; or what was happening where. It was all coming through in pieces. Americans all learned together that we were under attack. And it was so scary; probably the most frightening time of my life.

The campus received an order from the chancellor of the entire college system to shut down the university at noon that day. I don’t think anyone was really concerned for safety. It was more out of confusion and a general feeling of anxiety. It was probably for the best since I don’t think anyone would have done any work that day. I drove home and sat in front of the television watching CNN for hours. I was hoping to learn something, anything, as I’m sure the rest of the world did too. That’s when the tears began flowing, and felt like they never stopped.

Later that day, the name and image of Osama Bin Laden began appearing on the news. The only recognition I had of this name was a story I’d seen on 60 Minutes a few months before. But I didn’t pay much attention to that story because I thought – like many others – What could that man possibly have to do with me? Little did any of us know. …


Those next few months – and years – were filled with a lot of fear. I didn’t go to High Holiday services that fall because I was so scared a terrorist attack would happen at the place I was going to worship. On the first anniversary of the attacks in 2002, I stayed home from work and planted myself in front of the television. Mostly in fear that an attack would occur again; and I needed to know the minute it happened.

It’s been 14 years since that day that changed America – and changed my life – forever. I still cry every time I see the images of the towers falling to the ground and I hear the horror in the voices and cries of the onlookers. My heart breaks when I read stories about the 9/11 families. I’m haunted every time I listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Grand Central Station, her beautifully-written homage to a September 11 worker sifting through the “holy dust” at Ground Zero. Tears fill my eyes when I hear Alan Jackson’s Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning? And who can forget the Saturday Night Live tribute that aired only a few weeks later, at at time when nobody knew if it was appropriate to laugh after such sorrow.

As horrible as a tragedy 9/11 was, I remember feeling closer to my country, my neighbors and the people around me. It was as if all those American flags that were on display brought us all together. Later that month, I went to the annual Harvest Festival (arts and crafts fair) and everyone was wearing red-white-blue and proudly displaying Americana items. Something was bonding all of us together. It was a feeling and sight I’d never witnessed before.

It’s sad that’s no longer the case. I fear that we – as a country – have let the memory of September 11 fade. The country is so divided today. Yet we need to our collective past and remember that tragic day. Because only in remembering will we never forget.

Where were you on September 11? How do you choose to remember the day?

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