Sunday, July 31, 2011

#31: the word "peevish"

Reason to Be Happy #31: The word peevish

I just like it. It's not used often enough for my liking.
My favorite delivery of it ever was from Helena Bonham-Carter (as Lucy Honeychurch) in A Room With a View (one of my favorite movies), when she says of her musical choices, "Mother says Beethoven makes me peevish."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

#30: Sleeping In

Reasons to Be Happy #30:
Sleeping In

Friday, July 29, 2011

#29: Fresh Peach Cobbler

Reason to Be Happy #29:
Fresh Peach & Blueberry Cobbler*
with Vanilla Ice Cream on Top

*this reason made even happier when it is delivered to your home by a good friend, (as mine was).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

#28: Being in Water on a Hot Summer Day

Reason to Be Happy #28:

Being in Water on a Hot Summer Day

(Summersville Lake, WV)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

#27: El Meson

Reason to be Happy #27:
El Meson

(Dayton, OH)

My favorite restaurant in the world—seriously, if I had to choose just one to go to for the rest of my life, this would be it. That's probably why the characters in 3 of my 4 books (soon to be 4 of 5) always go there.

Thursday is paella night. It'll change your life!

Pictured are dragonberry mojitos.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

#26: My Cat Drinking From the Faucet

Reason to Be Happy #26:
When My Cat Waits in the Sink Because He Wants to Drink From the Faucet

Monday, July 25, 2011

#25: Zucchini Abundance

Reason to Be Happy #25:
Zucchini Abundance

My garden is the epitome of abundance at the moment. Especially with zucchini. Last year all the plants succumbed to a vine borer that left the entire plant looking like it deflated I over-planted this year, but not a single plant has died!

There’s a LOT of ways to eat zucchini. I grate & chop a bunch, then freeze to use for baking and stews in the winter. And I chop it up to put in my pasta. And my salads. And my gazpacho. And I grill it with a little olive oil. I even make zucchini chips.

In the wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which contains some great zucchini recipes, by the way) Barbara Kingsolver says, of her own zucchini abundance:
“Sometimes I just had to put down my knife and admire their extravagant success. Their hulking, elongated cleverness. Their heft.”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

#24: Hibiscus in Bloom

REASON TO BE HAPPY #24: Hibiscus in Bloom

Saturday, July 23, 2011

#23: Having Plenty

Having Plenty

Friday, July 22, 2011

#22: Building Sandcastles

Building Sand Castles

Thursday, July 21, 2011

#21: My Garden

Reason to be Happy #21:
My Garden

I love my garden. I call it my dirt therapy. When I first bought my house, I knew that at the top of my "must have" list was a backyard with suitable space and sunlight for both flowers and edible plants. When my real estate agent* brought me to this house, I spent about 20 minutes photographing and measuring the backyard before declaring, "I want to buy this." He responded, "Do you want to look inside?"

I did indeed buy the house (and, yes, I looked inside) but because it was June, I spent about 4 days creating garden beds and getting stuff planted before I ever had my furniture delivered! Priorities, right?

These photos show the before and after from almost the exact same view—from starting from scratch with a few lonely looking perennials, to the full glorious abundance today (three years later).

I spend a lot of time in this garden. Gardens can teach us patience, observation, diligence, how to nurture...all good skills for a writer. Waiting for germination is the same on the page as it is in the dirt. And all that pruning and weeding is closely related to editing.

*Need a great real estate agent in the Dayton area? Ed Griffith of Irongate is wonderful.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#20: Friends Who Teach You to be a Better Friend

Reason to Be Happy #20:
Friends Who Teach You To Be A Better Friend

Early this summer, I experienced the first real health crisis of my life. It’s really not all that dramatic, and everything is fine, but I had two surgeries in eight days and spent nearly four weeks unable to do a whole lot for myself. I already knew I had an incredible tribe of family and friends, but I was truly humbled by some of them during this rather helpless feeling time.

They taught me a lot about how to help—and how NOT to help—someone who needs it. Because of their amazing example, I realized I’d been doing this wrong all my life. Not intentionally, of course, but I’ve always been the person who sends a card, then calls or emails with “Let me know if I can do anything,” then stays out of the way, not wanting to “bother” anyone. I meant my offers of help sincerely…but it wasn’t until the tables were turned that I realized no one was ever going to take me up on my offer. People (myself included) hate to ask for anything. Asking for help is hard. It’s awkward and makes you feel sheepish and weird.

If you really want to help someone, remember this: A real friend shows up. They don’t ask how they can help. They They perform actual, meaningful acts, both big and small, and leave you feeling so, so grateful.

Just a few examples from my experience:
—Friends who said “I’ll bring dinner the day of surgery.” Not only did they feed me, my mother, and sister, but they did all the dishes and cleanup, too!
—Friends who called and said, “We’re going to mow your lawn. Do you need it Monday or Tuesday?”
—Dear friends from a writing class I taught who came over the day before surgery with bags of movies, books, and so much wonderful food that some of it is still in my freezer
—Numerous friends who brought food (mac-n-cheese, turkey vegetable soup, carry-in from my favorite restaurants, frappuccinos) or lovingly made it for me in my own kitchen
—Friends who watered my garden (no easy task!)
—Friends who drove me to followup appointments

One amazing friend brought dinner, then cleaned my bathroom! I would never have thought of such a thing. She said it was the one most practical act someone did for her family when her father was ill and she’s never forgotten it. I sat on the hallway floor and chatted with her while she scrubbed my bathroom from top to bottom. This same friend sent this email as a followup about a week later:
I am going to drop off some cookies and magazines at your house on Friday. I will text you just so you know they are there, but you are under no obligation to speak to me. I am also available to do the following:
1. Clean your bathroom
2. Do grocery shopping
3. Do laundry and change your sheets
4. Entertain you with lame stories
5. Take you to appointments. I am off on Fridays between now and July 15th. After that, I am basically free any day/time.
6. Pick up or drop things off at the library
You must pick one of these (but you can pick all of them) or I will just default to coming over every 10 days to clean the bathroom.
I remember telling her that all of this made me want to be a better friend! Not that I want bad things to happen to people I love, but if they do, I’m going to step up to the plate in a way I didn’t understand in the past. I vow to pay it forward!

PS. A perfect gift for a reader who’s been anesthetized? People magazine. I had no idea!

PPS. Here’s a great NY Times article about what to say—and what not to say—to someone who is sick.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

#19: Going Barefoot

Reason to be Happy #19:

Going Barefoot

(in the summer)

Monday, July 18, 2011

#18 Young's Jersey Dairy

Reason to be Happy #18:
Young's Jersey Dairy
in Yellow Springs, OH

As a kid, days spent hiking in Glen Helen or John Bryan National Forest often ended with an ice cream cone at Young's Dairy. Back then, Young's was a pretty small place. It has since expanded and expanded (I jokingly refer to it as "Dairy Land"), but the homemade ice cream remains just as amazing at it did in those days. Where else can you eat a fantastic meal, enjoy your choice of a bazillion flavors of ice cream and gelato, pet & feed goats, ride a tractor, pick your own pumpkin, walk through a corn maze...or literally watch the cows come home?

Just fyi: only available in the summer months, the fresh peach ice cream will knock your socks off!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

#17 Watching a horse scratch his back

Reason to Be Happy #17: Watching a horse roll to scratch his back...

...this is especially satisfying (to them) after they've just been bathed, and are still wet and clean. You've never heard such moans of satisfaction and expressions of pleasure.

(These photos are of the equine love of my life, Degas, who is no longer with us).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

#16: Tomato Plant Aroma

Reason to Be Happy #16:

That glorious aroma when you brush against a tomato plant.

Friday, July 15, 2011

#15: Sprinkles Cupcakes

Reason to Be Happy #15: Sprinkles Cupcakes
(Beverly Hills, CA)

There's something inherently cheerful about a there's something almost joyful about row after row of beautiful cupcakes in every kind and color imaginable. My favorite? The red velvet with cream cheese frosting (which is odd, since I'm sort of a chocolate addict).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

#14: Hydrangea

Reason to Be Happy #14: Hydrangea

Perhaps my very favorite flowering bush (no...that's too tough a call, but definitely in my top three!). I love all kinds and variety of hydrangea, but have a special love for oakleaf hydrangea (pictured first). These are the three kinds I'm lucky to have in my garden.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

#13: Sunrise Walks on the Beach

Reason to Be Happy #13:
Sunrise Walks on the Beach

This is even more a reason to be happy when you make the walk alone, as meditation (especially when you know you will return to a beach house full of friends who will have made a spectacular breakfast and good coffee while you were out walking...).
Topsail Beach, NC

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

#12: Catching Fireflies

Reason to Be Happy #12: Catching Fireflies*

*It should go without saying that you catch and then release the fireflies, right? None of that barbaric crap we did as little kids, trapping them in bottles and trying to "keep" them. Right?

Monday, July 11, 2011

#11 Dogs in Lifejackets

Reason to Be Happy #11: Dogs Wearing Life Jackets

(This is Sofie Neumeister swimming in Summersville Lake, WV)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

#10 Family

Reason to Be Happy #10: FAMILY

Feel free to define family how you wish. There is, as they say, the family you’re born with and the family you choose. I’m lucky, so very lucky, to love both of those families with all my heart. My immediate family—my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and the world’s most wonderful niece and nephew—and big sprawling family of relatives—aunts and uncles, cousins, Nana...AND my “chosen” family of friends near and far. They are my tribe. They are fiercely loyal and absolutely nuts. And they have my back when I need them.

Who’s in your tribe? Do they know you love them? Tell them.

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. ~Jane Howard

Saturday, July 9, 2011

#9 Galao

Reason to Be Happy #9: Galao

Rhymes with "allow." I fell in love with this creamy coffee drink in Portugal.
My record was 5 in one sitting.

(Bit of trivia: I also loved that the Portuguese word for dog was cao (pronounced like "cow"), so every time I left my friends' house I said to their dog, Bear: "Ciao, cao!")

Friday, July 8, 2011

#8 Foxglove

Reason to Be Happy #8: Foxglove

One of the most appropriately named flowers ever, they never fail to conjure up an adorable illustration from a Beatrix Potter story.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Reason to Be Happy #7

Reason to Be Happy #7: My cat Joey

Joey takes Valium, sucks on blankets, and plays with a spatula.
I adore him.

You might enjoy going back to read about how we met...
Or about the time he sat on a cake...

Someday, Joey will star in his own book.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

#6 The Smell of Summer (with recipe)

Reason to Be Happy #6: Basil

The smell of basil is the aroma that most perfectly captures "summer" for me.

It also makes me happy to say the Italian word for basil:
(isn't that fun?)

(Given to me by Bill Anderson, the friend who introduced me to this reason to be happy)

Blend the following in a food processor:
3/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons walnuts (or pine nuts, or pistachios)*
clove garlic**
1/4 cup Parmesan***
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup BASIL leaves packed tight
Serve over pasta, or in risotto, or on fish, or on bread, or in caprice salad...there are few things that can't be made better with some basil pesto!

*oh, come on, only 2 Tablespoons? I always put in a wee fistful
**Seriously? One clove? There's no such thing as too much garlic, in my opinion
***There's also no such thing as too much cheese. Ever. But save some to sprinkle on top, along with toasted pine nuts

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

#5: Pedicures

Reason to Be Happy #5

(Alas, no manicures for me. Money wasted, with all my gardening...)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Reason to Be Happy #4

Reason to Be Happy #4:
The Statue of Liberty

Or, even better, meeting the Lady of the Harbor in person, particularly on a sunny, perfect day while with good friends.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reason to Be Happy #3

Reason to Be Happy #3:
Joe’s Pizza

This pizza parlor, in Greenwich Village, serves up my favorite pizza in the world (well, besides my mom's).

Have you ever read Eat Pray Love (a reason to be happy in and of itself). In it (on page 79 to be exact), Elizabeth Gilbert says the following about a pizza in Naples. I feel the same way about Joe’s:
"These pies are making us lose our minds. I love my pizza so much in fact that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

#2 Dew on spiderwebs

Reason to Be Happy #2:
When dew hangs in spiderwebs and looks like diamonds.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reason to Be Happy #1

Back when I taught middle school, there was a day when every school in the area was closed except for mine. The students who managed to get there were grumpy and felt cheated. The teachers were exasperated as plans couldn’t go forward with classes of only 3 or 4 students present. By the third class of complaining, sullen students, I said, “C’mon, you guys. We’re here. We may as well be happy.” A student said, “Give me one reason to be happy.” And so, the project Reasons to Be Happy was born on the fly. Students wrote lists of reasons we should happy—random, specific things (both big and small) that make life the joyful, interesting, fascinating journey it is. Needless to say, “snow days” topped the list for most students that day. You should try it. It’s a mood lifter.

Today begins my goal to list a reason to be happy every day for at least one year.

Reason to Be Happy #1: GOATS

Among my favorite animals, goats are smart, mischievous, and funny. They give us the words caprice, capricious, and caper. I now have written three novels that contain goats as central characters (two unpublished as of this date, but one, Reasons to Be Happy, coming out this October!). Oh, and I'm a Capricorn. Coincidence?